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. :)


Thursday, June 20, 2013

My Goals, in Retrospect...

This is the first time I am revisiting these goals and reflecting on them specifically since the school year ended...

So much has happened, and I haven't had much time to think about these specifics.

I never imagined that, at the end of this, my 10th year as a teacher, I would be packing up and shipping out.

After having been in the same building for the last 9 years, I am getting moved over to another elementary school in our district.  It's still bittersweet and I am still trying to reflect on the week I found out, and the events following it.

Instead, I should take some time to reflect on our school year and the learning of my students...

In the 2012-2013 school year, a relatively "easy" school year with only 4 students with moderate to intensive special needs turned into another tough year with 6 students with moderate to intensive special needs.  In November, a new third grader joined us, and in March, a new second grader.

We also added 1.5 additional special ed. aides to make our little family just that much larger- 6 students, 6 special ed. aides, and me. :)

Here were the goals I originally set for myself along with my progress and commentary in red. :)

Goal 1: By the end of the year, first and second graders will have created an e-portfolio in Weebly.com.
2 of 3 second graders completed this task and 2 of 2 first graders.  Unfortunately I did not get to this with one third grader and one second grader as they had other needs that took priority.
            A.  Second graders will create e-portfolios in the first week of September. Done.
            B.  First graders will create e-portfolios in the 2-3 week of September. Done.
            C.  Second graders will add to their e-portfolio weekly. We did this, yes.  The weekly entry was a spelling test.  However, more meaningful writing did not take place weekly as I had hoped.  Our writing progress was good, but slower than anticipated this year.
            D.  First graders will add to their e-portfolio every other week. This was tough.  One student added weekly with a spelling test, but the other was more sporadic.  Again, not as much writing progress as I would have liked, slow but steady.

Goal 1: Moderate Success. :)

Goal 2: During the school year, students will use iPads for a creation tasks at least 3 times each.  Yes!  I believe I accomplished this with my students.  One student used I Can Animate to make stop-motion videos with our Legos.  Next, we used the Felt Board app to create characters from the book Freckle Juice by Judy Blume.  Lastly, we worked on using the App Toontastic Jr. Shrek.  This was very cool.
           A. Try out Puppet Pals. We did not try Puppet Pals.
           B.  Try out I Can Animate. Yes!
           C. Find another great App for Creation for my students (Garage Band? Poplet? Type Drawing?
                Toontastic?) Yes!  Toontastic Jr. Shrek and Felt Board.



Goal 2: Success!!

Goal 3: During the school year, participate on school teams, as a valuable team member. Instead of being the leader of many teams, I got back this year to find several of "my committees" had been cut from the committee list anyway.  Somehow, I ended up on the Field Day committee and I surely think this was a success in 2013!  I also worked on the planning team for EdCampCLE 2013 and didn't take over. :)


Goal 3: Success!

Goal 4: Participate in the Global Read Aloud with Charlotte's Web. Yes!  We loved it although we are hoping for a shorter book in Fall of 2013.  There was A LOT of work to do to make additional visual cues for every chapter, every setting, and every character.  We also used the cartoon movie version after every reading each chapter to make sure we understood the plot.
           A. Complete at least 3 Skype or Facetime sessions. Rats!  We Skyped only once this year during the Global Read Aloud, but also Skyped one time during Right to Read Week.
           B. Collaborate in at least 2 other ways with other classes.  Because the book was so long, we struggled to collaborate with other students during this time.  The focus was on OUR comprehension....


Goal 4: Still a success in my book!

Goal 5:  In any one day, leave the building after NO MORE than 10 hours of work.  Success!  in 177ish student school days, I was successful at this in at least 75% of trials. :)  

Wait, does leaving work and going to a 3 hour class on Applied Behavior Analysis once a week count as "leaving?"

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Twas the Night Before eTech...

Twas the night before eTech
And all through the room
All the devices were charging
To avoid pending doom…

Okay, I’m no poet.  It took me far too long to write that one stanza with two dogs trying to climb onto my lap as I sit on the floor in front of my laptop trying to be witty.

Witty?  That’s not really how anyone would describe me, is it?

Interested in learning? That’s more like it.

In going through the schedules on the Guidebook app, I have picked out several really exciting sessions to attend while also knowing I will participate in the “unconference” portion of the conference.  You can follow all of our tweets by going to twitter and following #OETC13.  At this conference, I’m really looking forward to making f2f connections with my twitter friends, learning something way out of the box, and learning to use our iPads with even more effectiveness and efficiency.

Monday, Feb. 11th (Happy Birthday mom!)

On Monday morning, we’ll likely miss the 8am sessions, but really, who could leave Cleveland much earlier than 5:45am?  It’s just not going to happen.  We’ll get there and go see the first Key Note speaker Heather Clayton Staker, who will speak on “Facing a Future of K-12 Blended Learning.”

On Monday at 10:45, I have picked out 5 sessions go to:
1. 21st Century Information Literacy and Common Core Standards: Professional Development for Teachers
2. AT, Math and the Common Core Standards
3. Ohio’s Next Generation of Assessments
4. Pairing Evernote and iPods to Benefit Diverse Learners
5. You Will Rise Art Project

On Monday at 12pm, I have picked 2:
1. Getting Boys to Read with Technology
2. Unleashing the iPad’s Creativity by Looking Beyond Content-Specific Apps

On Monday at 1pm, I might go to Using Digital Images as Writing Prompts.

On Monday at 1:15pm, I picked 2:
1. Flocabulary: Hip-Hop in the Classroom
2. Teaching Simple Machines and Force and Motion using LEGO

On Monday at 2:30pm, I want to go to:
1. Adaptive Diagnostic and Differentiated Instruction Based on Common Core
2. “Show Me What You Know”: How Games- Based Thinking Shaped my Classroom
And on Monday at 3:45pm, I want to go see “Web Apps and iPad Apps for Struggling Readers and Writers.”
Wheeeeeew!  And that’s just Monday!  And that doesn’t include any evening activities. :)

Tuesday, Feb. 12th
I’m doing slightly better in choosing sessions on Tuesday…

Tuesday at 8am, I have picked 3 sessions:
1. Google Tools for Students with Disabilities
2. High Heels and High Tech: 10 Essentials for Women in Leadership
3. iPads and IEPs Apps that Transform Learning for All Learners

There’s a Key Note speaker at 9:30, Max Brooks, speaking on “Show & Tell: It’s Not Just for 2nd Grade.”

At 10:45am on Tuesday, I would go to these:
1. Bloomin’ iPads (Bloom’s Taxonomy)
2. Student Created Multimedia eBooks on the iPad in Grades K-3
3. O.D.O.T Distracted Driving Simulator

At 11:45-2pm, I will be helping out with the “unconference” in C224 and 225.  I hope to see you there at some point! You can follow the “unconference” at #OETCx on twitter.

At 2:30, I’d like to go see “Grant Writing Made Easy: Novice Grant Writers, Funding Sources and Writing Tips using GRANT SUCCESS.”

And at 3:45, I’ll go to “Technology Tools to Support and Engage All Learners.”
I haven’t heard much about Tuesday evening activities, so maybe this is when I will take a nap and process all this!

Wednesday, Feb. 13th
On Wednesday, I plan to pack in as much as possible before we hit the road…

On Wednesday at 8am, I’d like to see:
1. iBooks Author and The Power of Writing eBooks
2. Incorporating iPad Apps to Demonstrate Core Standards

At 9:30, there’s a Key Note speaker, Andrew Ng, on “The Online Revolution: Education for Everyone.”

At 10:45 on Wednesday, I’d like to see:
1. Digital Portfolios to Spotlight Student Accomplishments
2. Scaffolding iPad Apps to Support 2nd Grade Student Language Arts Learning: Toontastic!

At noon:
1. Differentiating for All Learners using Technology
2. iPads, iPod Touches and the Common Core

And at 1:15pm, “Uncommon Projects for the Common Core.”

I’d also like to visit the Scholastic table, OCALI, Brain Pop, and Learning A-Z!  Any free stuff for kids accepted here!

A huge THANK YOU to Carla Calevich and her office for sending me, along with my colleagues Todd Wasil (@wasilt1), Joe Butler (@jfbutler) and Cathy Roderick (@CathyBees10), to eTech Ohio 2013!

Sunday, November 25, 2012

My EduBlog Noms 2012

While I'm not a fan of awards, in general, I do believe in recognition for good work. So, I will participate in this phenomenon called the EduBlog Awards to make sure that lots of deserving people get recognized.  Check out how you can also nominate others (by tomorrow) here on the Edublogs page. Good Luck!

Best individual blog - Teacher Tom - Teaching and Learning from Preschoolers 

Best new blog- Scott Kinkoph's Sync Tech  

Best teacher blog - Broxterman's Bugle Teaching with Technology by Melanie Broxterman

Best Individual Tweeter - @pernilleripp

Best Twitter Hashtag- #spedchat and #glread12

Best Educational Wiki- The Global Read Aloud Wiki

Best Mobile App- Proloquo2Go






Monday, August 20, 2012

Beginning my 10th Year...

Wow. Is 2012 over yet? This has been one of the most difficult years of my life and I am ready for it to be over. But, I wonder, is that fair to my students? I think not. So, in the next week, I'm trying with all my might to gain the strength and the energy to get excited about this school year...

A tentative agreement might help... I can only pray that it's on the way...

In the past several months, I've heard some difficult things about teachers. I've made some tough choices about my involvement in "fighting the good fight."  And I realized a great many things about myself in the process...

During these months, we've heard these kind of things...

"Teachers are greedy."

"Teachers are selfish."

"Teachers are self serving."

"Teachers work 177 days a year, 6 hours a day. It might as well be a part time job."

"Teachers are liars."

"The teachers should go on strike already, anybody would be happy to have their jobs."

"Anyone could do a teacher's job, how hard could it be?"

"Teachers coming out of college could make $30K, after a few years when they want to make more, they can go out and get real jobs."

"Teachers shouldn't make more than $75.000 a year."

"You should be happy you even have a job."

"You are caretakers of the unteachables."

And my personal fave... "The teachers are terrorists!"

Without telling the whole story of our Board of Education-Teacher- Support Staff Negotiations Saga this summer, I'm sure you can make your own assumptions about how well they are going judging by the QUOTES listed above.  Yes, those were actual quotes.

After a difficult school year last year, this was not the summer I anticipated. And after a summer full of stress and additional work, I don't feel rejuvenated for a new year. Not only that, I didn't spend the summer collaborating with other educators, reading teacher books, or LEARNING like I usually do. I didn't spend the summer honing my craft as I usually do. And now, I wonder, will I be letting my kiddos down?

So, I have to refocus.

I have to refocus on my kids and on my classroom and I have to set some goals for the year.

My own little IEP for the 2012-2013 School Year-

My Present Levels:
I have had my third grade students make e-portfolios for the past 2 years.
I have used iPads in our classroom for the past 1.5 years, mostly for drill and kill and motivational purposes.
I have participated on teams, typically as the leader, in our building, but tend to take on TOO much.
I have had my class participate in one Global Read Aloud with Flat Stanley.
I typically work 12-13 hours a day IN THE BUILDING.


Goal 1: By the end of the year, first and second graders will have created an e-portfolio in Weebly.com.
            A.  Second graders will create e-portfolios in the first week of September.
            B.  First graders will create e-portfolios in the 2-3 week of September.
            C.  Second graders will add to their e-portfolio weekly.
            D.  First graders will add to their e-portfolio every other week.

Goal 2: During the school year, students will use iPads for a creation tasks at least 3 times each.
           A. Try out Puppet Pals.
           B.  Try out I Can Animate.
           C. Find another great App for Creation for my students (Garage Band? Poplet? Type Drawing?
                Toontastic?)

Goal 3: During the school year, participate on school teams, as a valuable team member.

Goal 4: Participate in the Global Read Aloud with Charlotte's Web.
           A. Complete at least 3 Skype or Facetime sessions.
           B. Collaborate in at least 2 other ways with other classes.

Goal 5:  In any one day, leave the building after NO MORE than 10 hours of work.

I might be adding on in the upcoming days, but for now, if I can complete these tasks, I will feel that this is a great year.

What are your goals for your year?








Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Integrating iOS Apps with Standards Based Instruction for All Students


I’m a “special ed.” teacher.  I prefer to say that I teach kids with special needs.  I actually prefer to think that I just have some tricks to help ALL kids learn and that’s what makes me qualified to work with kids who are “exceptional.”  Whatever you call them, kids are kids.  And the new “Common Core State Standards Initiatives” is for ALL kids, no matter their exceptionalities. 

The CCSS webpage says that “The Common Core State Standards provide a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn, so teachers and parents know what they need to do to help them. The standards are designed to be robust and relevant to the real world, reflecting the knowledge and skills that our young people need for success in college and careers.”  To be clear, I do not understand how these standards achieve these goals where the “old standards” or the “Ohio Academic Content Standards” didn’t.  In reviewing the CCSS (for grades K-3) in the past several months, I see some holes.  I see some questionable areas.  I see that some of the Math Standards appear to be more developmentally appropriate while some of the English Language Arts Standards do not.  The more I keep reading about the CCSS (there’s also a Free App called Common Core Standards), they are actually quite controversial and a bit of a conversation piece.  No matter what my stance on the acceptance of these standards, one thing we can agree on, we need to keep standards high and consistent so that all kids can learn.

With the implementation of the CCSS, I have had to reexamine some lessons, redesign some practice activities, and rethink some of our strategies.  In doing so, I keep going back to one concept, all kids can learn.  And although I found the “Application to Students with Disabilities,” I feel that I can make the connections myself.  This document lacks something for me when connecting CCSS to my students.  My students have autism. They have cognitive disabilities.  My students have genetic disorders and speech and language disorders and hearing impairments.  My students are individuals and the generic modifications and accommodations become more meaningful when I think of them in context of my own students.

Here’s an example.  Student A is going to first grade.  He uses words, but only in 1-3 word phrases and typically only when he wants or needs something.  He is not conversational and although he enjoys listening to books read aloud, he prefers to listen to an animated, automated voice read the text rather than my teacher voice.  I believe he does this so that he can repeatedly return to his favorite pages and hear the same text time after time.  He has started to read this year, now expressively reading 10 sight words and attempting to sound out short a words like hat, cat, can, man and ant.  His typically developing peers are now reading over 30 sight words and have learned to read all short vowel words using a, e, i, o, and u.  They can read decodable text on their own and expressively tell what the story is about.  Student A can point to pictures and use one word utterances to label them.  Typically developing students can label objects in writing and have started to write complete sentences.  Although Student A is at a very different developmental level than his peers, grade level standards can he applied to both Student A and his same grade peers.

One of Student A’s IEP objectives is to choose the beginning sound of a word given four letter choices visually.  This ties directly to Phonemic Awareness Objectives like “Isolate and pronounce initial, medial vowel, and final sounds (phonemes) in spoken single-syllable words.”  While Student A may be working on beginning sounds with visual choices as an accommodation, a typically developing peer may be working on medial or final sounds in short or long vowel words.

So, how can we use iOS Apps to support objectives such as these?  Well, think of the App Word Magic.  Word Magic ($.99) gives four letter choices as the beginning, medial, or ending sound of a word that is represented with a visual picture cue.  You can customize for 3 letter words or long words, as well as long or short vowel words. You might even get to work on letter blends and digraphs.  It even takes data to show those responses correct on the first try and those incorrect, but allows the user to continue “guessing” until he/she chooses the correct letter for errorless learning.

How about ABC Magnetic Alphabet ($1.99)? It provides picture cues as “magnets” then allows letters as “magnets” so that objects can be labeled in writing using manipulative letters.

How about using the Educreations Interactive Whiteboard (free) where we could produce a whole lesson, record it, and play it back for later review?  Perhaps review at home?  Or preview at home?  Have we just “flipped” the resource room?

There are thousands of Apps that can assist in any classroom, including inclusion classrooms and resource rooms.  Check out this great resource page called “APPvice: Using iOS Devices to Support Students with Special Needs” in which pages are provided for specific areas of concern, as well as recommendations for Apps and demonstrations of Apps.  Melanie Broxterman (a “special ed.” teacher from the greater Cincinnati area) and I created this page for a state presentation and have since shared it and used it in countless situations.

Another resource that I am currently working on that is applicable to ALL kids is titled “Connecting the Common Core to iOS Apps K-3.”  This is currently a work in progress and I am hoping to have it completed before the first day of school (Aug. 29th, 2012).  Please check in there, and, if you have suggestions, please email me ASAP.

While teaching students with special needs is both challenging and rewarding, we need to keep in mind that ALL kids deserve high expectations, quality instruction, appropriate support, AND grade level standards.