Thursday, August 30, 2012

A Mess of a Day! And a Social Skills Cartoon!

So you know that super organized schedule I posted last night? Most of it went out the window today! It was a disaster. Not really having anything to do with my planning, but a lot to do with it being the first week of kindergarten in special ed. My plans for the day might as well have been a wad of paper on the floor.

One boy had tantrums throughout the day which included yelling on the floor and running out of the class. Luckily he just sat outside the door. And another boy seems to be on a hitting/grabbing people kick, so I spent a very large amount of the day putting him away from other kids or into a timeout. Both of these things are normal the first week of school, as I've learned over the years. Although, they did put a wrench in my plans to finish beginning of the year testing. Nothing can get done with a kid while he cries, so there's no point in trying. Plus, I can't test other kids on initial sounds if they can't hear my words over the crying. By the afternoon the plan became for 1st-2nd and sorting beads by color for kinder since we are learning both the color words and sorting next week. I figured it was as good a time as any for an introduction. This seemed to calm them all down. Thank goodness for the music teacher! They loved music today!


I feel like the day went in phases of great, disaster, super great, giant disaster, great, disaster, and finally ending on a decent note.

I started my day by burning my finger on my hair straightening iron as I tried to save the cord it was starting to melt, and that seemed to set the tone for the mess of a day. 

I had a parent unhappy their child wasn't eating enough. I prompted him 20+ times, and yet he still hardly ate. We are not a school equipped to feed by hand (and he's fully capable of feeding himself), so I don't really know what to do with that one. I can't force him to eat.

I also have a student who was in my class for the first 2 days of school, then moved to the upper grade class the last 2 days, and will be coming back to my room tomorrow or Monday. It's a bit of a confusing mess, but oh well, nothing I could really do about it. The kids in my class love him, so it will be nice to have him back so they stop asking about him all day long. He's a sweet kid.

I'm hoping next week we can start our normal routine since all this testing will be done. I think the days will be much easier when we stick to a predictable schedule without tedious and boring testing.  They were getting annoyed by my robot-style  instructions today. I can't wait to talk to them like a human again!

Thanks for reading my venting rant! Now on to the inspiring part of my post!! So my kids lack social skills, which is no surprise for kids with autism or just special ed in general. I do TONS of social skills instruction in my class. My latest adventure has been social skills cartoons! It was my project tonight after my disaster day. I haven't even eaten dinner yet... I should do that soon. Check out the comics below! I made them using ToonDoo! I have a feeling I'll be making a lot of these this year!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Running a Multi-age Class & Whole Brain Update

Whole Brain Teaching is starting to sink in and work pretty well for my kids! They are getting really good at "Mirror!" and reciting the rules. One boy always giggles right before we say #5 (keep your dear teacher happy) and says "time for your favorite one!" The kids are so excited about the rules that they randomly chant them out loud when they realize they're following one. I can't even count the number of times I asked a kid to do something and they cheered "Follow directions quickly!!!" as they ran to do what I asked. Then when they know they did something well, they ask "Can I earn a monster point?!" It has become our new nickname for the Class Dojo points since they each got to pick their own monster avatar. I still need to determine a redeem your points system, but for now they just love hearing the ding of a happy point, and they even tell me when they think another kid next to them has really earned a point and I should give it to them. Yay teamwork!!!

I am running a self-contained class for kids in K-2, which means they stay with me all day for all subjects with the exception of PE and Specials (art, music, etc.). This becomes a test of organization! The kids are all learning different things at the same time (up to 3 different lessons at once) and there is only one of me (no classroom aides). I've had some of you wonderful followers ask how I do this. The simple answer: organization, schedules and routines! Here is breakdown of a typical day in my room. Just think centers rotations in hyper-drive for most of the day.

Ways I make my life easier:
  • All students have a seat work folder with their assignments for the day in order. Anything that doesn't get done stays in the folder for the next day.
  • I have folders labeled Monday-Friday for copies/materials the kids will need as a whole group
  • Materials specific to a subject/grade go in another set of folders (Kinder reading, kinder math, 1st reading, 1st math, 2nd reading, 2nd math)
  • Things that don't fit in folders sit in a stack in order of when I'll need to use them during the day
I got these super cute folders so I have something pretty to smile at while I file all the work for my kiddos. Mine are a little more blue and purple, but I couldn't find a picture of those.

Ready for the organized chaos??? Here it goes...

K= kinder, 1/2= first and second grade, 1= first grade, 2= second grade

Language Arts (hour and a half):
  • Students enter the room and pull their seat work folders out of their chair pockets and beginning working quietly (10 min)
    • K- writing/fine motor skills (tracing, matching with lines, cutting, etc.)
    • 1/2 Editing practice activities (adding capitals, punctuation, spelling)
  • I begin pulling a group of kids for instruction while the other group(s) continues their seat work (20 min)
    • K- instruction with teacher for Letter of the Day
    • 1/2- editing practice continues, then silent reading time when finished
  • Switch groups (20 min)
    • K- Independent practice activities with the Letter of the Day (trace, print, initial sounds)
    • 1- Word family/sight word practice work
    • 2- Reading instruction with teacher
  • Switch (20 min)
    • K- Literacy centers
    • 1- Instruction with teacher
    • 2- Independent response/work activities corresponding to the reading lesson
  • Final Switch (20 min)
    • K- Continue centers
    • 1- Independent response/work corresponding to the reading lesson
    • 2- Continue independent work, sometimes reading centers
    • Teacher- rotate between student groups, provide support/interventions

Writers Workshop (45 min):
  •  First Rotation
    • K- write the room/writing station activities
    • 1/2- Write-to, direct instruction for writing skills
  • Second Rotation
    • K- predicable chart with the teacher
    • 1/2- writing journals
  •  Final Rotation
    • K- writing journals
    • K-2- writing conferences with the teacher


Read Aloud

Math (One hour)
  • First Rotation (20 min)
    • K/1- Math Centers
    • 2- Direct instruction
  • Second Rotation (20 min)
    • K/1- Direct instruction
    •  2- Independent work based on instruction, centers when done
  • Final Rotation (20 min)
    • K-2 Independent work based on instruction, with teacher support as needed plus interventions
Brain Break Activities

Social Studies
  • First Rotation
    • K- Hands on learning activities (make and take projects)
    • 1/2 Teacher instruction with textbook
  • Second Rotation
    • K- Instruction with teacher (read aloud, direct instruction)
    • 1/2 Response activities
  • First Rotation
    • K- Hands on learning activities (make and take projects)
    • 1/2 Teacher instruction with textbook
  • Second Rotation
    • K- Instruction with teacher (read aloud, direct instruction)
    • 1/2 Response activities

Kiss Your Brain goodbye song, kids go home

Lastly, Lisa goes a little crazy prepping to do this all over again the next day :)

Super Centers Linky Party!!!!

I love centers in my class! Especially this year with such a huge range of abilities in my little group. Centers time for math and language arts allows me to teach my adorable little kids at their level, while the rest of the group is doing some wonderful hands on learning. Ironically, my new class is actually quieter during centers because they love hands on learning so much!! This has inspired my 2nd linky party! I thought we could all share some of our favorite learning centers.

The Linky Party Rules

1) Show us your favorite centers with a link to where you got them if you didn't make it yourself, so we can get it too!

2) Share some pictures of the center if you have them. We'd love to see kids learning!

3) Put my Linky Party image somewhere on your post with a link back to my blog. Feel free to shrink it down. It can be small, I know I made it big on my page, but I was just so excited for my 2nd linky party!

4) Become a follower for the great blogs you find as you are hopping along looking at great centers!

If you have any kids with autism/asperger's in your class, take a peek at my post from yesterday about meeting their sensory needs in super easy ways.

Here are some of my favorite centers:

Making Words! I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE Making Words!! I've used this edition for independent learning in centers, and I've also used it for student engagement for spelling. In fact, it's the basis of much of my spelling instruction. I HATE spelling lists! But this makes spelling super fun :) I also have a pocket chart set that I use with giant letter cards. The kids try to make as many words as they can and figure out the "secret word" that is made using all the letters. The "secret word" is by far the best motivator to  keep kids thinking!! They try for the entire lesson to think about what big words they could make with the letters.

Making Words, Grade 1: Lessons for Home or School

Dice/Dominoes: I realize this isn't a center all on it's own, but when you turn it into a game, it totally is. I like to let the kids roll dice and then add/subtract/multiply the numbers. I really like that it can be modified by the skill level. For example, increase to 4 dice to make 2 double-digit numbers. You can also use dominoes because they each have 2 numbers on them. I have sheet with blank dominoes printed on it, then the kids record which dominoes they pick up so they don't do the same one twice, and the added bonus is I can informally assess based on them. Double dice (a second die hidden inside) make it extra fun for them.

Double Dice

Matching games: There are endless possibilities to this strategy. My latest favorite is the set of Color Words matching activities that I bought during the TPT sale created by Doodle Bugs. I'm sure I've posted it before, but I think it's great and I'm about to use them next week.

Color Word Unit: Acitvities & Centers for the 10 Basic Col

Shoebox Centers: I need to revamp these for kindergarten, but I've had them in my class for years. If you look at my classroom pic HERE you can see that I've actually put them in plastic shoe organizers to make them more durable (3rd classroom pic, under the 100 chart). Race to a Dollar is always the most popular and teaches coin swapping/counting. There is a whole series of these books and the centers are super easy to make. They take a bit of time, but last for years and once they are made. All the materials are already sitting right in the box along with instructions taped to the lid. Great for when you have a sub who needs things to do! I think I have 3 different versions of the books and I swap out what is in the boxes based on the skill level of the kids each year.

Shoe Box Learning Centers: Phonics

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Meeting Sensory Needs For Kids with Autism/Asperger's

It's only the second day of school and I'm wiped out! Currently, I'm procrastinating on grading phonemic awareness assessments, DIBELS and math samples. My little guys have a HUGE range of abilities this year. Looks like I'll be teaching the alphabet and numbers to one group, and long vowels and double-digit addition/subtraction to another group. And my last little genius boy will be learning social stories for reading time because he's 5 years old and read 175 words per minute already!!! So I'm using reading for an entirely different purpose for him.That's my homework tonight... to find a way to make a reading curriculum of social stories. It's an experiment. I seem to do a lot of those in my room. Special education seems to be famous for "make it up as you go" to meet the needs of amazing kids.

Ok, so today my class made perfectly clear some of their sensory needs. One kid couldn't stop making noises with his mouth, another kept covering his ears, and another accidentally wet his pants and almost cried when he told me because he said "I feel terrible that I let you down!!" as tears welled up in his eyes. There was no way I could be mad at that point. This got me thinking about all the different ways I meet those needs in my room. I know many of my followers are general ed teachers, but you may have kids with autism or Asperger's in your classroom. I thought I'd show you some super easy solutions to these problems and others.
UPDATE: Here is video I made to cover some of these topics!

I'll try to add to this list as I think of more things I use. Feel free to bookmark it or "Pin It" and it will be work in progress for sensory strategies. If you like, I can also make a direct link at the top of my page for it.

Oral Stimulation Options (Solves problems with mouth noises):
  • Gum! I can't tell you how much the "no gum in class" rule seems ridiculous to me now. Teach the kids to chew quietly and throw it away properly and the annoying mouth noises stop. I've had at least a dozen different noises I've stopped with this including whistling, squeaking, and sucking sounds.
  • Rubber necklaces to chew on. This works with some kids, but not all. I actually like gum better. And less germs!

  • Water bottle with rubber sucking straw
Auditory Over Stimulation (covering ears):
  • Noise reducing headphones. They don't stop sound, just muffle it. Mine are red and hang on my wall using 3M Command cord hanging hooks. I'll post a pic of them on my wall tomorrow, no time for pics at school today. My new ones are red and block a bit more sound, but I my old ones that just broke were like the pic below and I liked that they folded up small.

  • Quiet music, sounds counter productive, but it actually keeps the kids from talking as much and the student is no longer over stimulated by all the conversations
Bathroom troubles:
  •  I remind the kids to go to the bathroom during quiet work time. I realize this breaks many teacher bathroom rules, but I can remind my special little guys 800 times until I lose my voice, but that does not mean they will actually remember to go during recess. I have a bathroom in my classroom a whopping 2 feet from our work table, so it doesn't waste too much time and is significantly faster than me having to change a student's pants later.
Wiggly kids:
  • Sensory cushions. These can be official wedges as you can find below, or you can also use exercise balance cushion.  

  • Figits- I have squishy stars the school had made for a conference booth
  •  Let the student stand at their desk instead of sit. I usually put this child on the side or in the back of the class where they won't block other students view of important teaching materials
  • Let the student lay on their tummy on the floor with a clipboard
  • Use a weighted vest during work time
  • Let the student kick their feet on an exercise band tied to their chair legs

Agitated Student:
  • A designated quiet place to sit without having to ask permission when too upset to talk. I have a stairwell in my classroom that EVERY SINGLE KID uses when they get upset. I've never once assigned it, yet somehow the kids always run straight there when they get upset. I think it's quiet, no one can see them, and the walls are completely bare so there's no additional stimulation
  • A weighted lap pad. I had a boy last year tell me it was like the blanket pushed the extra energy out of him. And it was only for about 5-10 minutes at a time, it didn't take too long. I only have one and it has been there for at least 3+ years. Mine actually has velcro so I've wrapped it around the student's chair before to cover their lap when their legs had too much energy. (The student liked it and it was never a "trap" or forced on him. SAFETY NOTE: Check for laws in your school, state or district, as well as get parent permission before using!

Fine Motor Struggles:
  • Tracing
  • Cutting
  • Picking beads/Cheerios up with tweezers
  • Legos
  • Bead lacing
  • Pencil grippers
  • A rubber band to hold the pencil/crayon properly

    Twist rubber band around pencil and put it on the student's wrist (not too tight!!)
  • Let the students type assignments instead of hand-write. I've had several students that can type at least 2 or 3 times faster than they can write with a pencil. I also have AlphaSmart so the kids can type, but there is no way for them to play games when you walk away. It only types words like a typewriter, then I plug it into my laptop to print.
  • Use special scissors such as the Goldilocks Scissor from Pocket Full of Therapy

    Monday, August 27, 2012

    Great First Day, Tinkering with WBT

    This post in a nutshell: First day success and the beginning of my test case for Whole Brain Teaching in a K-2 SPED class. And a real live llama...

    So we survived the first day of school and I think it was a pretty big success in Lower El. This may actually be the first time since I've been teaching special ed that no one ran away or threw a tantrum on the first day of school! Yay! My little guys were ADORABLE and every teacher in school commented about what a cute class I have this year. There was a fight over which counselor gets to teach my pragmatics (social skills) class every Friday. They are just so loveable, even when they have their little monster moods!

    My guys are used to pre-school length days (3 hrs or less) and we about to fall asleep on the table this afternoon with our 6 1/2 hour day schedule. I scrapped this afternoon's lesson in favor of rotating play breaks and DIBELS testing. I have to test my own students and it's too early in the year for these guys to do very much independently. I figure if we use this as a testing week, I can jump into curriculum and centers rotations next week. I've learned the importance of easing into it and avoiding tantrums from pushing them too hard. I want them to start off by loving school, not hating it. I have them for 3 years after all!

    Whole Brain Teaching is my little pet project this year. I've seen amazing videos of general ed classes, but it's a whole new ball game in lower elementary special ed!! I'm in a predicament about how much I can use it, and how challenging it will be when I start splitting my kids into pairs for instructional time (kinders, 1st, and 2nd all in the room learning different things at once). Feel free to offer suggestions if you've tried whole brain teaching with kinder sped! When reading my thoughts, keep in mind I teach kids with autism, a brain tumor survivor, and a rare disorder that's caused an LD. I think the system is perfect for general ed, but I'm struggling a bit because of the social quirks of my kiddos. Of course, some of it will come with time and practice. It's only the first day!

    + Great student engagement
    + The kids really remember things better
    + Great visual reminders with the posters I made (check them out here if you want a free copy)

    • Lack of perspective-taking ability makes it REALLY hard for them to copy/respond the right way. "Class? Yes!!" was nearly impossible! They almost always responded with "Class!" instead of "Yes!" to the point that I may just change it. They were great at responding when I wanted them to, which is the whole point, but they can't for the life of them get that they used the same sounds/tones, but say "yes" instead. This could be a great phonemic awareness practice strategy, but it could also be a loooong teaching process to have them learn to change the word.
    • Students with autism don't like to look at people, this makes the copy-the-motions part of the strategy a big challenge. They often repeated what I said, but didn't look at me long enough to get the motions right. This part I'm going to keep doing because I think they really need to learn the importance of looking at a person to understand body language means something.
    Name mosaics we made today
    Staff present from the Head of School (it's a lunch bag/cooler with a "cool school year" note)
    Surprise First Day of School flowers from a friend. So nice!
    A REALLY old winery I went to with my sister this weekend as we hunted for a wedding location for her. This was our picnic stop. Soooo lovely and peaceful!
    I got to feed this guy's llamas at the winery!!! Fun!!

    1st Day of School!! Plus my SALE!!

    Today I begin my 7th year as a teacher! WOW!! I can't believe how far I've come both as a professional, a person, and even the physical distance from where I started. Seven years ago I was a very nervous young teacher in Phoenix, Arizona. I remember a few extra read-alouds those first few weeks before I learned how long it took students to complete different lessons and assignments. Years later, I've learned that no 2 school years are the same. I never do my lessons exactly the same way and everything is adapted to meet the needs of the kids that year. Sure, I have my favorite lessons, but they are never an exact copy of the year before. I'm beginning my 4th year at my school a little south of San Francisco. The kids I have now are nothing like the kids I had when started teaching in AZ, but they're amazing just the same. While I started my career at the best school ever, I've learned to love some of the amazing differences at the school where I am now. I love looping with my class. It's like a little family and I never have to sugar coat things when I talk to parents. I work with them for multiple years and it puts us at ease with each other. If something is a mess, we work together to sort it out. We talk about their kids' amazing talents, and shed a few tears together over their heartbreaking challenges sometimes. I have a student who changed schools this year, yet his mom and I still email each other I send her things I think will help make her life easier.

    This is the first year with a completely new set of kiddos, no looping ones, and I can already see how our relationships are starting to bloom. At the Back to School Picnic, we already joked about the challenges I have in store for me this year. Just the fact that they accept their kids for who they are, and are able to joke with me about them, makes me love them even more. I'd much rather a parent be honest and real by saying "my kid can be a challenge sometimes" than be in denial and think, "my kid is perfect." I can't help perfect, but I can work with families to help make challenges a little easier. Cheers to a new year, and a new little family in my cottage!

    Here is my first day of school plan:

    Before School
    *  Showkids where to hang backpacks
    *  Giveparents Welcome Letter and Level System Information

    *  ReadAloud: First Day Jitters
    *  WholeBrain Rules
    * Name mosaics (I'll post pictures later)
    *  Bathroom/drinksrules
    *  SchoolTour
    *  RecessRules
    *  The Day the Monster Came to School (FREE behavior expectation lesson from Growing Kinders)
    *  Picturesort for monster behavior cards
    *  ChooseClass Dojo avatars (so excited to use this!)
    *  IntroduceLevel Chart (school behavior system)
    *  LunchProcedures

    *  Teachprocedures
    o   Beginningof the day, when school starts
    o   Liningup
    o   Puttingbelongings away
    o   Usingthe bathroom
    o   What to do during progress monitoring testing or when the teacheris busy
    *  Goover daily schedules
    *  AllAbout Me Posters
    *  ReviewLevel System and the expectations. Refer to the monsters for behaviors at eachlevel
    *  Discussgroupings and that students will not all be doing the same activities
    *  Showhow we clean up and line up at the door
    *  KissYour Brain song

    I may not get to everything on my plan, but I've learned it's always better to have too much rather than not enough. The day also includes PE and Art time, so I know I probably am WAY over planned, but we'll see how much we get done. I don't mind if some things run into Tuesday. Also, this order is very vague, and even as I look at it, there are a few things where I may change the order around, but the overall plan stays the same.

    Don't forget about my ONE DAY ONLY First Day of School Sale today!!!

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