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. :)