Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Top Success of 2014!

Almost the last day of 2014, trying to spend a little time reflecting. 

As they would say on the RHOBH, I'm "in a good space right now" and want to focus on the positive.

Thus, my #1 most successful moment of the school year:

It has to do with a student very near and dear to my heart (as if all my stories couldn't say that)...

This student was in my class for three years and at his IEP meeting last May, it was up to his IEP team to determine if he was to take the Alternate Assessment (AASWD) or the Ohio Achievement Assessment (OAA) as a third grade student. Based on the scores from his IQ testing, he could've taken the AASWD, however, as we often know, IQ tests are not always so accurate for those with autism spectrum disorders.

The team used the flow chart from the state and determined that he should take the OAA. I was pleased with this because I believed he could. He was not two grade levels below, he was not working on an alternate curriculum... His parents agreed.

Towards the end of the meeting, we returned to the testing page and had another conversation about the tests. It was up to me to again convince the team that he could do the OAA with the allowable accommodations. I was sure he could do it. We signed off and that was that. 

Fast forward to his third grade year. I am no longer his case manager nor do I work with him at school. I do work with him privately and worked on simulating the testing conditions to complete practice tests so this was not a new experience for him. We practiced one passage and the questions 2 or 3 times each week from August through October...

...The test was coming up in two days and his teacher had an unforeseen absence the entire week of the test. Who is going to administer his OAA? I was feeling panicked. 

The day before, his teacher and I spoke on the phone and determined that I would administer his assessment. Uh oh. How will this go? What if it's too hard? Why did we do this? 

The day of the test, as I was driving into school, I had another moment of panic. What if this goes all wrong? What if this is just torture for him for three hours? What if I was wrong?

I set up our testing room with snacks I knew he would like, a visual timer, some reinforcers (M&Ms that we often use at home), pencils, erasers, water, and a white board so that I could make him a visual schedule (1. Read story. 2. Answer questions. 3. Take a break.)  I had already taught him to read the questions for each story before reading the passage. I knew he was ready. He could do this! "We got this," I thought to myself.

As the busses started rolling in that morning, I got nervous once again. Why is he taking this test? What will it tell us about him? What if I was wrong?

Too late now.

I got his testing booklet and picked him up after the morning announcements. We read a social story about doing your best and continuing to work until the test was done. We read the visual schedule to show that he would do one passage and the questions then take a break. Then he was ready.

As he opened the booklet and saw the story, he said "read the questions to me first," just like we had practiced. I read the questions and answer choices aloud to him and then he proceeded to read the passage.

Throughout the next hour and a half, he was rewarded with M&Ms, break time, theraputty, and a short walk to the water fountain. He read every passage out loud without assistance. He answered every question in the booklet with prompts only to "color the circle darker." 

As he colored in the last circle in the booklet, I could feel my tears... 

We closed the book, I shouted, "You did it! You really did it." I gave him a small round of applause as he said "no please" and pushed my hands down. 

I took him back to his resource room and walked his test booklet back to his home room. I was crying. He did it. He really did it.

And it was better than my Super Bowl. He did it.

And I didn't know what score he would earn. The written expression questions were tough. Answering questions with whole sentences was tough. 

His score didn't matter. His score does NOT matter.

I could have never seen his score and it would've still been one of the proudest moments of my 12 year career.

He did it.

He proved he could do it.

No "meltdowns," no "behaviors."

He did it.

I could not have been more proud.

He did it.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Success!!! Top 2 of the year...

Because lots of people are probably making lists or countdowns this week, I've been attempting to reflect on my ten most successful moments in the year 2014...

Truthfully, I try not to think of the school year before July and so I've settled on my two (yes two) most successful classroom moments of 2014.

Here's the big reveal:

The #2 most awesome classroom moment of 2014.... Wait for it...

This year I teach reading intervention. I do interventions with students in grades k-3 who have shown consistent difficulty on reading assessments like the DIBELS, the DRA, the STAR Enterprise, and the Wonders Reading Assessments... I give at least one "test" every other week to check on our progress. Luckily, some of the assessments only take about three minutes but the STAR Reading test is 34 long questions. I give this only once a month and we get ready for this assessment by talking about our past scores (the color band the score falls in, not the actual number) and trying to figure out how to get a better score. (By the way, YES, I HATE that this story revolves around a test. But it gets better.)

I discovered at the beginning of the school year that the majority of my students were getting terribly low scores, not because they couldn't read the test, but because they were choosing not to read the test questions. They didn't believe they could do it, so... Why try? THIS HAD TO CHANGE!

So.. I use the behavior plan that we have set up in class and give out "tokens" throughout the test when I see that the students are ACTUALLY READING THE QUESTIONS! They also get tokens for correct answers when I catch them while I am monitoring all 4 students. (Students later use the tokens to buy extra time on the iPads, computers, and prizes from the prize box.) 

(You're welcome for the background.)

Now, onto the success!

I have a seven year old second grader who told me at the beginning of the year, "I'm lazy, that's why I can't read." At the time, I made a mental note to address this and moved on. Throughout the year, I have not allowed her to use this excuse throughout her thirty minute sessions with me, but she liked to employ this belief on the.... Surprise, surprise... STAR Reading test.

By November, we  mostly had this thing down. You move up a color band, you get tokens, candy, and some major praise. She still didn't care much and moved up only 3-5 points each month. By November, she'd had enough. She whizzed through the test and answered all 34 questions in less than 15 minutes while I was attending to another student. "No way," I said. "You didn't read it. You are so smart and you aren't even trying. You have to show people you're smart. You are taking this again during recess tomorrow." (Now, I do NOT believe in taking recess away from kids, and so I found a time with her home room teacher to take the test the next day that did not include recess.) 

The next day, she showed up. "I'm going to sit next to you and listen to you read the whole test," I said.

She began. First question timed out while she read it. Second question timed out while she read it. Third question, she just looked at me. "Try this," I said. "Remember when I said READ THE QUESTION FIRST? Let's try it." She read the question out loud. Then she started reading the paragraph and the answer was in the first sentence. She looked at me and smiled and I could actually see the light bulb go on. Got the answer. Next question, "Read the question first." She did it again. Got it. By the sixth question, she was starting to feel successful. By the eighth question, I didn't need to prompt her to read the question first. By the 34th question after over 40 minutes, she had done it. She finished the questions, read every last one, and she had really tried. 


But the story doesn't end there. 

We decided to look up the score (with my fingers and toes crossed that I would be able to show her what happens when you try).

And then I almost fell out of my chair. She went from the second lowest score in second grade, in the red (red, yellow, blue and green are the color bands that show the national percentiles) to the top of the BLUE!!! 

My co-teacher and I started yelling and jumping up and down and said "Look! Look what happens you try! You tried, you tried! We're so happy you tried!" 

"Doesn't it feel good? Doesn't it feel good that you tried?"

I printed out her score in a graph so that she could see how high her score went when she just tried. We highlighted it and passed it around and went to the office to show the ladies there. I said "Tell them what you did." ( I thought she would say something about improving her test score. ) 

She said...

"I tried!"

Her smile was so big. And she was so proud.

There it is! Success!

She has not missed one "optional" homework assignment since that day. 

Her score skyrocketed into the GREEN in December.


It wasn't about the test. It wasn't about the color band or the national percentile score.


She really tried.

And she's still trying.

And I'm praying that she keeps it up when we get back after break. 

She tried!

She tried!

Whoooo hooooo!

Friday, November 28, 2014

I'm done!!!

I've been holding off on this post for almost a week because... well, because I don't actually want to be done.  I don't want our journey to be over and I don't want to be done with the shelves.  But I wanted to hang the shelves, and since this class has now extended from 6 weeks to 10 weeks (with continuous weeks coming up), I guess it was time to pull the plug on the fireplace shelves.

Here are some photos, in all their glory, followed by just a few of the things I've learned... 

I'm sure I'll add more posts reveling in the things I've learned and reflecting on the time I've had in this "class" or "cohort" at the Soulcraft Woodshop....but...

First, I've made some great friends.  I hope their friendships will extend longer than just through this experience.  If they don't, I have learned a great deal from each of these people and I will FOREVER be grateful for a group of people that came into my life at a time when I really needed to learn and grow, but also be true to myself.

Second, communication is awesome.  Some of our best (or my favorite) conversations came after the "class" while exploring truths and beliefs.

Next, I was reinforced in my belief in being genuine. And I appreciate the people in this experience because each of them is genuine. Genuine people 24/7. How often do you find an entire group of people like this?

I've also been reminded of the need to learn something new and be open enough to make mistakes.  I love that I can use this lesson to help students.  "Oh. My student is looking at me like I am speaking a different language."  "Oh yeah, that was how I felt on the second day when Peter told us about all the "machines" in the shop."

Reflection is necessary.  For me, I need to constantly be reflecting.  How did this experience go? What did I learn? What would I do differently? What can I do next time?  And writing these thoughts down helps me to reflect. Good reminder.

Next, learning styles vary.  It has never been more clear to me than through this experience.  The experts can help the beginners and those who have experience can provide insight along the way.  Some people could help with the math while the others look at the aesthetics. Every single one of us had a different strength.

"Create more than you consume."  I first heard this from Sean and have thought of this every week. The need to create is real. 

I believe I could go on and on AND ON about the many skills and lessons I've learned along this journey...

I plan to keep writing about them as we all continue to go to the shop... even though our class is over.

See you Saturday, my friends, at the #soulco.

Coming soon: videos of the experience.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Uneven Playing Field

This topic comes up in my life regularly. This topic is discussed at least weekly in our Soulcraft Cohort, as well as at school, and on twitter. And as I continue to grow older, I see it more and more.

Our culture simply does not "allow" women to hold the same stature or status as men. 

I'm not talking about the paycheck. We all know that women make less than men for the same jobs, right? I see the headlines and I shake my head. "Not in my world," I usually mumble to myself. I would never put up with that.

But isn't that exactly what we put up with?

You speak up too much as a woman and you're labeled. Bossy. Pushy. Not flexible enough. Can't work with others. Bitch.

So, because I advocate for what I believe is right, I suddenly don't play well with others? I know a few people who would disagree. 

Because I advocate and get what my students need, I'm pushy. I'm bossy. I've overstepped. I know a few parents of kids with special needs who would disagree.

But, the boys can fix the computers. The men can do the tech job. The new man in the corner office who has never even been to my school can now block my access to the iTunes Store even though I will use my own money on my own account. 

A #soulco friend told me that she was approached by a male colleague after speaking up at a staff meeting. Isn't she worried how she'll be viewed in the district? Isn't she concerned about her reputation? What about her credibility? he implied through his callous comments. 

This past week, there was a technology conference run through WVIZ. I looked through the pictures because some of my friends and members of my PLN would be there. Sean, our soulco co-founder did the keynote and I heard he killed it. Check him out at @mrwheeler and @teachinghumans. Did he deserve to be the keynote speaker? Hell yes. 

Could his wife and her co-teacher also have rocked as presenters? Yep.

I noticed some of my other colleagues then, both as presenters and as attendees. All men. Did they deserve to be there? Are they hard working and ambitious? Hell yes.

But aren't there also some hard working and ambitious females in the field of ed tech, progressive learning and teaching, in education?!?!

The truth is, there are. But some have been silenced. Some have to jump through too many hoops. Some are so concerned about making sure that that kid in their class gets to eat breakfast when he gets there that they don't have the time or energy to be a leader in the field. Some are focused on school, work, AND their own kids. Some simply don't want to...

But shouldn't we at least have an equal opportunity? 

My work at Soulcraft these past 10 weeks has been consistently eye opening. I'm learning about myself, my perceptions, my learning style, and the Maker movement while applying all of it to what I can do better for kids.

Why is that marginalized?

Why is it not enough?

Since when is it wrong to do what's right and speak up? 

In my world, it's not.

"You appear to be more of an advocate for the parents than for the district," I heard loudly last school year. "No," I thought, "I'm an advocate for kids."

I'm not bossy. Or pushy. Or loud mouthed. Or difficult. Or a bitch.

Because if a man did the same things, he be lauded and applauded. 

In fact, he is. Daily. 

While I continue to search for those like me... 

At places like Soulcraft... 

Where it's okay to be a woman in a "traditionally male" universe.

Did you hear that Barbie can't even restart her own computer now? 

As my friend @stacyhaw said "Women aren't big in the education field... Oh wait."

Who can you name that could become a teacher leader or education leader? Go.

Here's the start of my list:
Cathy Roderick
Caryn Cody
Karen Wheeler
Julie Rhea
Stacy Hawthorne
Christy Neider
Vicki Turner
Lee McClain
Melanie Broxterman
Kim Taylor
Jacqui Berchtold

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Chopping Up Stereotypes

I've been mulling over this one since last Saturday because I'm not sure how to even approach the topics I want to communicate. The woodshop, for me, this week, was more about communicating and relationships. I guess that's not that much different than usual, but I found those things in a different way this time...

But how do I write about these things without offending someone? How do I make sure this is appropriate for my audience? How do I manage this "bull in a china shop" topic? Let's just do it. I'll try to be nimble.

I've been thinking about stereotypes. Perceptions. Breaking stereotypes. Changing perceptions.

So, I'm doing this wood shop thing. I'm hanging out with dudes who build stuff. I'm a 33 year old single girl. I love sports and can talk about the Browns and Cavs and hold my own.  I'm now building stuff out of wood. I asked for an electric sander for Christmas. What's the common stereotype here? I know you're thinking it. Or maybe you're not but I had to be sure I made it clear. "So, I like guys." I'm not sure if the woodshop guys were surprised or not. Why did I even feel like I needed to tell them that? 

Next, I'm white and have always lived in the suburbs. I went to a private grade school and now work in the district where I lived and attended high school. I never left the 'burbs. My parents paid for my undergrad degree. I wear a NorthFace fleece and own a Coach purse. What's your perception now? If you don't know my whole story or my parents' whole story, you might assume you know me now. You know this stereotype.

How about when I spend my money to go to the Cavs home opener? Browns season ticket holder? Special education teacher? Elementary school teacher? Any common stereotypes here? How about the guy spitting chew into a bottle that sat near me on the bus yesterday? 

Now the stereotypes that I often think of when I see other people who...

...wear stilleto heels to a sporting event?

...have dirt under their finger nails?

...don't read with their kids?


...don't show up for parent-teacher conferences?

...don't speak English?

...use poor grammar?

...are stay at home moms or dads?

...ride the bus?

...pay someone to do their yard work?

...have cats? 

...don't give 200% at work?

...don't read for fun?

...don't go to college?

...use android devices?

The theme of stereotypes continued through my extended conversations last week at Soulcraft when we ventured into the topic of the use of the "r word." I choose not to use that word because I believe that there's a negative connotation and it's hurtful to both people with special needs and their families. I often believe people who use that word are ignorant, thoughtless, careless, unkind...

The conversation was extensive and Peter and Jim helped me to realize that it's not about the word, it's about the stereotypes and perceptions behind the word; that it appears to me that using the "r word" is synonymous with the de-valuation of life if your IQ is lower than 72 or if you are not considered "neuro -typical." There's the perception that, if you are "retarded," in the DSM IV definition of the word, your life is somehow less meaningful than mine. 

Jim was surprised to know that 80% of babies conceived with Down syndrome are aborted. How about the woman who killed her child with autism and the people who justify it?

And who owns the "r word" anyways. People with an IQ below 72? Their family members? Their teachers and aides and tutors? Can anyone actually own a word? 

Do the words matter?

If the words don't matter, what's the first step in changing the perception? 

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. :)