Monday, October 20, 2014

Week 5 of This Adventure

Well... This is supposed to be a six week adventure/ experience in wood working and education, but let's be honest. We are not even close to being done, right Pete?

I could write for days on what I gained this week at Soulcraft. I'm spending time with interesting, brave, cool people and hearing their stories while telling mine... We're all on a journey, aren't we? And I should be learning about others' journeys too, shouldn't I?

But, the really cool thing I think I'm gaining here is confidence to try new things. 

After all, the more stuff you try, the more stuff you can do, right? (Not so profound or Emerson- like, but still, true.)

Today, I found myself stuck in my driveway. Alone. And about to be late for work with a car that wouldn't start... Again.

I've watched this three times before today, I can do this. 

So I did. I jumped my own car today. 

I jumped my own car without any help?

I did! I jumped my own car. I did it! I did it myself!

And without this class/experience/cohort/thing, I'm not sure I would've ever even tried.

I could hear my dad doing a cheer up in heaven (likely because I didn't set my car or myself on fire). 

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Soulcraft Week 4

I'm not even close to being done, mostly because I don't want this experience to end. I'm hoping everyone wants to continue making a weekly trip to Soulcraft even if it's just to high five between machines and drink way too much coffee. 

I was struck this week by so many profound conversations, I hope I can capture it all... 

First, I had a great conversation with Karen about immigrants who are brand new to the district AND to the country. I have several students this year who've just come to the United States weeks ago. I want to know how to teach them but I don't yet. I'm not sure they need to score higher on First Sound Fluency, but rather to follow the rules of this game we call school. When to sit on the carpet, when to line up, when to speak and when to be quiet... Lakewood appears to have a much larger population of immigrants, of course, but the words that struck me from Karen were "language acquisition." I know plenty about language acquisition for students who have autism or Down syndrome. I know what the next steps are with a child who can't speak or doesn't speak at all. But, I have no idea what to do for these kids who have language, just not the English language.

This one 5 minute conversation about language acquisition led to my search over the weekend for ESL podcasts and research. I'm hoping I'm now on my way to helping our new friends...

Next, as we were planning to meet up before the Browns game, I was surprised at the comraderie we've already formed. These are the easiest friendships I've ever forged, maybe because we are having a shared experience, or maybe because it's just great to be around like- minded people like Tom and the friend he brought along. Each of these professionals truly know who they are and continues to evolve as that person day in and day out. 

Jim's kids joined us for a bit to talk about school, homework, Minecraft, technology, group projects, teachers, and more. I was moved by the depth of their responses and their honesty. They don't know us, they didn't need to impress, they were simply genuine and true. Kids are amazing, I realized again. 

I stayed after a bit and engaged in even more amazing conversation with Sean, Jim, and Pete. I lost all track of time until I realized that I was expected in Toledo in a little under 15 minutes from that time... As I ran out of Soulcraft and jumped in my car, I was struck by two words Peter shared when supporting Sean, and all educators who feel discouraged. Viscerally involved. 

Viscerally involved.

"At least you are... viscerally involved," he said with a hand outstretched to prove his point. 

I can only hope to be so viscerally involved in every one of my life experiences. 

Sunday, October 5, 2014

The Dichotomy Between my Fixed and Growth Mindsets

 Saturday was a busy day.  I went to my woodshop "class" and then met with my supervisor as a BCBA candidate. It strikes me that these are two very different worlds. And somehow I am immersed in both. But one familiar note strikes me- I need other people to help me with both.

At Soulcraft, we're pushing each other outside of our boundaries. This week, I learned how to use the jointer ("with a T"), the planer, and the table saw to mill the wood AND I actually used them! Five different people helped me to mill the wood for the sides of my shoe rack and none of this would've gotten done without each of them. Karen and Julie helped me with the math. Peter and Jim helped me use the machines for the first time (and not be afraid), and Sean and Julie helped me with the planer. I couldn't have done any of it without them. 

At 12:15 as I was speeding to meet my BFF (and supportive BCBA candidate in crime) and my supervisor at Starbucks, I thought, "I sure needed a lot of help today. This makes me uncomfortable, I'm used to being the "helper," not the "helpee!" I promised myself that next week, I would help someone else instead of only work on my own project.

And then in our conversations at the coffee shop, I certainly needed my people. Group contingencies and the pros and cons of them do not just discuss themselves...

So, it strikes me that I needed people. I need people! I need people? I guess I do need people.

You see, I pride myself on being really self-sufficient. Typically I do not ask for help and try to get lots of things done efficiently and effectively on my own. I like being the helper and the expert. I like knowing what I'm doing and doing what I know. I even shy away from asking people for help in stores because I should be able to figure things out on my own. But then I get stuck. "I am independent female, hear me roar!" I don't need your help... Until I do.

I need to get rid of my fixed mindset that leads to thinking that needing help is showing weakness. Isn't it actually being human? And isn't that actually okay???

It has to be. I needed help. Now I'm better for accepting it. 

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Growing Into My Growth Mindset

Oh no!  I almost cried again.  But I didn't!  I will NOT cry in this wood shop.

This week, we spent the first hour talking.  Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, someone asked me this week why I wasn't teaching special ed. this year.  I gave a short version of the story. I will NOT cry in this wood shop. For the first time telling this story, I didn't cry. I DID NOT CRY IN THIS WOOD SHOP!

And then we moved on to learning about the machines in the wood shop. THANK GOD.


Wait Peter!  PETER!


I got the jointer. Joiner?  Jointer?

I got the planer.  Planer? Planar?

Hmmm... I think I got the table saw. Maybe.

And then it was over. My head was done.  Peter had 6 more machines, but my brain was done.

Wait, is this how people feel when I try to teach them how to make a website?  

Is this how my students feel when I ask them to write a sentence? 

Well, it's a good thing Peter said we won't be having a test on these, although won't USING them be the ultimate test?

Oh well. The machines are long gone in my brain because then we started "sketching."  Cool. I can draw well enough PLUS Jim is helping me.

And then we're figuring out how to calculate how much wood we need.  Cool. I am sweet at math.

And then...


And then I COULDN'T DO THE MATH!!!!!!!!!!

No, really. I couldn't do the math to figure out how much wood I would need.  I couldn't visualize the cuts in the wood and I couldn't even problem solve to figure out the math to help me figure out the other math!


Thank goodness there's a former math teacher around and also a math intervention specialist and also some really awesome furniture makers because they helped me with the math.

But they also helped me realize that this is what's wrong with school.  I did learn this math.  I could ROCK THIS MATH on a standardized test.  But now, using this math in context, WHEN I ACTUALLY NEED IT and I can't do it.  I am horrified to admit and totally embarrassed.  I have a Masters' degree PLUS 29 credits AND I COULDN'T DO THE MATH.

And then I thanked God for putting me in this situation where I don't need to be embarrassed because I am learning with these people who are also learning.  AND FAILING IS OKAY.

This is exactly the message I need to take back to my students who HATE to read out loud in front of their peers:

Let's let it be okay to mess up.  Let's laugh when we make a mistake and try again the next time.  Let's use our peers for their talents and then shine in another area.  Let's make it okay to do stuff you're not good at it, solely for the purpose of getting better at it.  Let's take it easy and learn for fun, rather than learn for a test or a score.  Let's CHILL OUT and stop worrying.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Soulcraft Woodshop Cohort and my Fixed Mindset

In light of the interesting years I've been having (couldn't we all say that about every year??), I've been searching for something.

Yesterday, I may have found it.

But I could hear this come out of my mouth, "I'm a special ed teacher. Wait, I'm a special ed teacher who is currently being disguised by my district as a reading specialist."  And I may or may not have started to tear up a little. (Please, please self, do not cry in this wood shop.)

So, I joined this thing.  And as we all sat around, we pondered what to call this thing...

I think we settled on the Soulcraft Woodshop Cohort.

I joined a wood shop class?  Wood?  Shop?  Me?

In an attempt to push myself outside of my comfort zone, I have joined a wood shop class.

The great part is, it's a wood shop class, with a twist.  I'm hanging with other educators who believe that the education system is screwed up and want to find a way to fix it. And the first step is to join up and collaborate, right?  So, while we're building stuff and learning new skills, we're going to talk education.

Now, the people in this room appeared to be slightly more "meta" than me.  But I could see it. Everything in this wood shop was a metaphor for education.  Everything we are going to do resembles building, molding, shaping young minds.  And at the same time, our instructors, the Soulcraft guys (Peter and Jim) will be modeling how to work with 10 different people with 10 different ideas in a setting that resembles a Maker Space.  10 totally different people... A superintendent, some principals and assistant principals, a PhD candidate, a math teacher, a high school intervention specialist... and me?

Whew. By the time I got home yesterday, I was exhausted. That's a lot of thinking. That's a lot of thinking about thinking. This is not what I do in my free time with my friends...

... but maybe I will now.

We talked a little about fixed vs. growth mindset and I realized, oh crap, I'm working with a fixed mindset. Sometimes.  When it came to this wood shop, I was surely in a fixed mindset thinking "there is no way I am going to be able to do this."  I even admitted "I really usually only do things I know I am going to be good at." I really just told strangers that?

Lastly, Peter was telling us about the cuts and grades of wood. He was talking about joinery and wow, I was getting a little overwhelmed until he started talking about the natural "defects" of the wood and how we can use the defects to make beautiful design elements. 

Done. I'm sold.  I take my students who have these atypicalities and help them grow into something beautiful.

Metaphors complete.

What will the next six weeks bring?

Here's my first sketch. Guess what it is!

P.S. First round of thanks to Sean WheelerPeter D., and all the people who got this thing going!

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

A Tough Year...

Alright, so, I already broke my own promise to blog on Monday mornings.  My plan was to use my new found planning time each week to blog about something meaningful.  I forgot that we were off of school for Presidents' Day on Monday, so I pushed it to Tuesday.  Then, we got a snow day!  A wondrous, glorious snow day!  Our 5th so far this year... but thankfully we aren't to "blizzard bags" or make up days yet.  If all goes correctly in Ohio, we'll just progress with the year as planned.  But I am really hoping the snow is done.

I have a strange feeling inside that God gave me these snow days for a great reason.  I'm having a tough year and try to go with the motto of "just get through it and make next year better."  Before I get the whole "pick your head up, do it for your students, be the change" argument, you don't know what kind of year I've had.

And unless I want to make the year worse, I'm not going to be necessarily blog about the details.

What I'm interested in is this:

How do you get through a tough year?

I've been trying to decrease my work load, focus on the good things in my life, meditate, become more mindful, celebrate small successes, remember I'm there for the kids, eat healthier, go to bed earlier, stress less over the work, etc., etc., etc.

It's helping, it is.

But I'm still struggling.

I need to find some inspiration, some way to make it through the days, a way to want to get out of bed in the morning...

I started looking around my house, my bedroom, my photo albums.  I tried remembering the years that were great, the great students we turned out, the wonderful parents who supported the program.

I couldn't seem to turn away from this picture.

I remember back then, I thought it was a challenging year.  I thought I was trying my best, I was stressed, but feeling successful.  If I had known then what I know now...

The day that is captured in the pictures is the day that the Cleveland Plain Dealer came to announce to my whole school that I was going to win a Crystal Apple.

I know what you're thinking... it's about the award. It's all about ME.  But it wasn't.  It was the fact that my students were there, even though it was an "after school staff meeting."  Their parents were there. My family was there.  And I learned that not just one parent nominated me, BUT THREE.  We called them "the big 3" back then, and I never imagined that I would learn so much from those three kids, and their parents.

It was a good day and a good year.

I was challenging kids.  My boss believed in what I was doing.  My team was behind me every single day.  The aides were like family to me.  The kids?  They were amazing.

We had finally gotten the program under our belts.  It was the third year in Room 5, our room for students with moderate-intensive special needs.  We were making new materials, assessing, working together.  The kids were incredible.

I had figured out what I believed in and it was to include our kids as much as possible.  Our team had the same philosophy, we had grown together...  I knew that it would be my uphill battle, but I was willing and happy to advocate for every program, material, field trip, and minute spent in an inclusive setting.

I told my principal that it was "my most difficult year" so far.  He told me that I said that every year...

In 2014, the kids are still amazing.  And that's what I need to focus on.  The kids.  The kids are incredible, they are making progress, they are learning to read, count coins, write complete sentences.  They are growing.

But still, I wonder how many years I can do this job...

How do you handle a tough year?

Monday, February 10, 2014

Teaching Written Expression to Students with Mod-Intensive Special Needs

In an effort to examine the way that I approach the instruction of written expression to my students with moderate-intensive special needs, I have had a chance to speak with others who teach students with special needs.  Several have shared the ways that they go about teaching written expression to our students without the help of a "program" or specific curriculum. 

In the past 6 years, I have tried to stream line the way I teach writing and use a task analysis approach to my instruction.  Using principles of ABA, I often use more of a discrete trial method, continuously practicing and reinforcing a concept at one to one teacher table until it is mastered.

I've heard from other colleagues around the country (via twitter and email) about their similar approaches. Because our students differ, we have varying methods. But, one thing is the same. Written Expression Instruction for our students is complicated.  

Below, I outline the way that I instruct written expression for my K-3 students with moderate to intensive special needs:

Only after learning letters and letter sounds and working on basic handwriting skills with pre-writing strokes, I start with writing capital and lowercase letters that represent a sound.  I say "write the letter that says /b/."  My student should write a "B" or a "b."

Once we have mastered writing (with some sort of accuracy so I can tell what letter I am looking at), I move on to writing three letter words in the cvc (consonant-vowel-consonant) pattern to label a picture.  We see a picture of a hat and we should write h-a-t.  I help sound out the word by tapping out the sounds on my arm (beginning sound at the wrist, medial sound at the elbow, and ending sound at the shoulder).  While learning to do this, we are also practicing receptively choosing beginning, medial, and final sounds in cvc words.

Below is a page we might use to label items with cvc names like pen, hen, can, hot, pot, and ten.  We would typically work on this together once we have already made words with letter cards or on the iPad app called ABC Magnetic Alphabet.

Once we've mastered labeling pictures, we move to making sentences using picture cards and word cards.  I show a picture of a simple object like a dog.  Then I say "What is this?" and the student constructs the sentence "This is a dog."  We work on varying the start of the sentence with "It" or "I see" to make sentences like "I see a dog." or "It is a dog."  During this time, I reinforce capital letters and periods to make complete sentences.  We watch a Brain Pop Jr. video and practice, practice, practice.

Then we move to pictures of people or fictional characters doing something so that we can make sentences with a verb + ing.  Using picture cards and word cards, I ask "What is he doing?" The student will then make a sentence like "He is walking."  I change my question to use "she" and "they" as well.

We work then on writing the sentence we've formed with the word cards.  Then writing the sentence without the word cards.

Once we can write one sentence about a picture, I move to two sentences.  Using the same method as above, I show a picture and say "What is this?"  The student should write "This is a dog."  Then I ask "What color is it?" or "Is it big or little?"  The student can then write a sentence with a defining characteristic like "It is brown."  We then point out that we have two capital letters and two periods and that means we have written two sentences.

Once we can master that, I show the picture and say "Write two sentences."  

In addition, I plan to start adding in more "errorless" writing in which I can give a sentence with a blank space and several correct choices for a response like this (Thanks to Jennifer Waer aka @spoowriter for this awesome example): 

I'm am incredibly interested in discussing this topic with other teachers who work with students with moderate-intensive disabilities and hope that I'll hear from some.  

Thanks to some members of my PLN, @teachwtechbrox, @specialteachk, @tperran, and @spoowriter, for your support and help. :)