Tuesday, July 30, 2013

A Book to Teach Math, Reading, and Social Skills All at Once

This summer I have one of my adorable kids from my old school that I just couldn't give up! I've been tutoring him twice a week for an hour at a time, and our main focus is math. As in ALL things math! He's a kid that can easily forget things he's learned, so it's been an intensive spiral review along with new concepts slowly sneaking in.

It's summer and it's just the two of us in an amazing library! It's beautiful, has tons of rooms where we can find a table where it's quiet, but not too quiet so people aren't mad when I'm talking to him a bunch. We've come to love the teen section since the teenagers are just there gossiping together anyway and couldn't care less about studying in summer.

My favorite part is that I can bribe reward him all I want! Every time I bring his favorite fruit snacks and smelly stickers for completing his tasks. Plus he "earns" book time if he uses his time wisely and I go read him any story he wants in the children's section...Little does he know this is my time to work on comprehension and social stuff with him!

Today he randomly picked this book and it was AMAZING!!

It's a math story about counting money, which was PERFECT timing because money was part of our work today. The book teaches how to use different coins to count the total amount it all. It reinforces the concept of "counting on" to make change and the phrase "exact change."

There are sooo many things you can do with inference skills as well. There are things that happen in the illustrations, but are not in the words. My favorite was a little girl who was muddy but it didn't say how exactly. I asked my kiddo how it happen if she is sitting on the grass. He said "maybe it was poop" completely seriously! I worked with his inferences in baby steps explaining how they are washing cars with water near the grass. Then talked about how wet grass gets muddy and he concluded she slipped in the mud. It was a very funny process!

We worked on the social skills based on the behaviors of the kids in the story. We talked about how a little girl squirted her friend with the hose, but he wasn't mad. Then how he "accidentally" squeezed a sponge on her head. We talked about how it was really on purpose, but she didn't mind since they were playing.

This lesson was completely random and I made it up as I went, but it was filled with sooo many concepts! I just may need to buy a copy to keep for my class! Now I'm curious about the rest of the series!

Do you have any favorite books that cover several concepts at once?

Monday, July 29, 2013

Only 2 Days Left of Summer School!

Summer school is almost over! Just two tiny days left! This month has quite honestly flown by! I have been so busy getting to know the staff, learn the new curriculum, get to know the kids, and just generally get settled in!

Our main goal of summer school has been to set up the tone for the year. We are getting the students used to the routines, expectations, and testing their limits both academically and socially.

We have multiple kids who really struggle with emotions and/or behaviors. Nothing too severe of course since our school is all high functioning disabilities, but more of something we'd like to start interventions now to help our students be successful all year!

We've used this summer school session to praise and reward good behaviors and encourage them to keep happening. We also have been pushing the limits on our kids. We really want to use this time to teach them the strategies for dealing with their own emotions during summer school when our days are shorter and a little more flexible. I'll have to do a post soon about our regulation tools we use! One "tool" is to send a kid outside to run in big circles around the grass when he has too much energy. The people in the offices get to see a funny sight as kids fly past their window randomly!

We've also been doing baseline assessments to determine a starting point for each student's academic plan for the year. 

Lauren and I didn't get much of a chance to plan together before summer school, so we already have plans to meet during August to review files, student plans, and discuss the changes we'll make when we start our longer, regular school days.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Our students think we're crazy...really crazy :)

Yep, we are down right crazy according to not one, not two, but at least 4 of the 8 students who were at school today! Hahahaha!! Every morning there is a writing prompt on the SmartBoard and the kids put their stuff away and start working on them as soon as they get to school. I was feeling silly, and I wanted to see what they'd say about us so today's prompt was "My teachers..."

These are two of their responses:
"My teachers are [cuckoo] because they walk in doing the [cuckoo] dance. The silly way." The illustration shows us dancing at the front of the room and the kids laughing at their desks. In all fairness...this may have actually happened this morning... Classrooms without teachers randomly busting into dance moves are just no fun :)

This is the next one:
"My teachers are crazy." I am the one on the left with the really long hair and the pink face. The teacher who used to have my job, and pops by often to help us out and just say hello, is the one in the middle who has been turned into the devil (they love her, I think they were just being silly). Lauren, my co-teacher, is the one on the right with the crazy hair! In all fairness, Lauren has some crazy curls! In fact, she'll correct children who draw her without wild curls :)
Today the kids were wacky to say the least! I'm choosing to look at the fun part of our day and forget about the rest!

Lauren and I left after school and went to the gym before coming back to work to plop ourselves on the floor of the front office reading 50 page files for each of our students. It was a great way to think about ways to help them this year! We meant to do it ages ago, but things have been so nutty in the first 3 weeks of school that today was our first day to really do it and make it focused instead of rushed.

Also, I actually like to review them after getting to know the kids a little more. It makes it more meaningful when I can apply the things I'm reading to the behaviors I've seen in class.

When do you review student files?

Monday, July 22, 2013

Little Tid Bits About My New Class

I'm starting my 3rd week with students and still loving the new school. I'm slowly feeling less lost in the curriculum and things are starting to hit a good flow.

We've been benchmarking our kids and I actually really, really enjoy giving these assessments! We use AIMS web to progress monitor our kids. I feel like it's the best way for me to get to know these kids and what they are each capable of. I've seen the little things the kids are struggling with, but I've actually been pleasantly surprised by how successful some of these kids are in certain areas! I was blown away when one kid read over 150 words/minute!

One thing that I love about special education is that for every gigantic struggle these kids have, there is one area where they completely shine! I have 2 kiddos who REALLY struggle at reading, but their artistic abilities are astounding! That makes me think...I need to find a way to work some art skill into our reading groups...maybe it'll help them remember those sight words!

One thing I really like about this school is the way we differentiate reading and math instruction! Every class has 2 teachers, which teach separately for reading and math. This means we can teach completely different things and split the kids up between teachers and rooms to meet their instructional level. During this summer school session, we work out the kinks and find the best placement for every kid before the full school year starts. I really like both of my groups! Not to say they are easy, but my kiddos have some definite personality!

I am taking over for a very lovely teacher who moved to another department. One thing I really like is that her letter cards all have magnets on the back so I can arrange them on the board to spell words. Another thing I really like are these dry-erase sheets! They are simply sheet protectors with handwriting pages slipped inside. They work great and wipe off easily!
Here is one a student was using as we practiced marking r-controlled vowels. Clearly I need to work on some fine motor stuff! I must note, the kids had the fat markers, so maybe I'll give them the skinny ones and see if  that works better.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

A Peek at My Week

Hey! We just finished our second week of summer school! We have a week and a half to go! I feel like I'm really starting to get to know the kids and our curriculum. Our kiddos have such fun personalities! We have one kid who is a total sketch artist! We had a "Draw & Write" activity and he asked if he could draw his own elephant since he didn't really need the drawing instructions! Haha!

During our first couple of days of reading groups I was really struggling! I'm used to jumping into teaching lessons and knowing exactly what we need to do, but that wasn't the case this year. This school picks up where the year ended, and because it's special education the kids don't always go at the same pace as a regular school depending on how well they grasp the concepts. It all makes perfect sense in terms of what's good for the kids. As a teacher, it was super confusing starting on Chapter 8! The book keeps referring to things, but since I didn't teach them, I have no idea what it's talking about. I bring my teacher's manual home every single night to study!

One day, the whole lesson plan was to review different sight words and key words that had been taught using 3 different decks of learning cards. I could only find one of the decks since we changed classrooms and things got mixed up. I had no idea what words the kids learned in chapters 1-7, so I had no idea what to review. I found myself digging through the end of unit summary and writing the words by hand on the board. That night I came home and made flashcards out of 3x5 cards for all the words I needed until I could find the decks of cards.

It all worked out and by the end of the week I hit a great groove with my reading group! In special education, it sometimes feels like your talking to yourself because the kids struggle to focus and concepts take a little longer to sink in. It took a couple days to figure out what motivates these little readers and how to keep them engaged for the whole lesson. On day 4, we stopped in the middle of the lesson for a fire drill, came back in, and the kids jumped right in and were totally engaged in the lesson again! Whoo hoo!

By day 5, we hit an awesome learning zone! I made our lesson completely using the SmartBoard and the kids loved it! I had our story up on the screen and the kids used it for decoding, comprehension, word work, and grammar practice all at once! It was perfect, well aside from the fact that I didn't realize I needed 3 cords and not 2, so I had to write from my computer instead of with the pens! What can I say, I've never had technology in my classroom! I'm THRILLED, but there is a learning curve for all this new fandangled technology!

My math group has been awesome! I get to start from the beginning of the 1st grade book so things make so much more sense to me! I don't have my teacher's manual yet actually, but I've made some great little supplemental materials and the kids love them. I secretly LOVE teaching math!

Now for a peek at some of the fun stuff! I bought these little stick lizards for the prize box and the kids loved them! Then Lauren, my co-teacher, taught the kids how the stick to walls and ceilings! Such a fun last 5 minutes of the day!

This was the straw blowing watercolor art the kids did with the art teacher. I wish I had pics of the kids doing the activity, but I had a migraine that day and it was the last thing on my mind!
Are you moving to a new school this year? Are you familiar with the curriculum they use?

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Teaching Number Partners and Fact Families

I have a new version of our curriculum, but the kids' books came long before my teacher's manual. I was given the option of starting the kids on the old book, but I decided I'd rather let the kids stay on the same learning path and I'll make do with what I have.

The first chapter is all about "Number Partners" which are often called "Fact Families." Since all I have are the kids' workbooks to go off of, I decided to create my own supplementary materials using the same vocabulary, but my own materials and homework since the homework book is back ordered too.

First, I taught the number partners by giving the kids rainbow counters. I have had these for YEARS and my students always love them! They are a nice break from the boring base-10 blocks! Not to mention how cheap they are! We started with 4 each and I had the kids practice putting them in groups. They learned the groups are called "partners" and they work together to make a larger number. Since we aren't adding or taking any away, they always equal the same amount. Then I added one counter for each kid and they tried making the groups again learning the number partners for 5. Each day we've added 2 new numbers and learned the different partners that make those groups.

I like showing the kids that the groups can change places and still equal the same amount by having them put a hand on each pile and swapping them around by crossing their arms. They also think it's kind of funny to have spaghetti arms!

This kid was learning his "7 partners" and I snapped this pic as he was about to cover them with his hand and swap places for 6 and 1.
I didn't have any visuals to go with this, so I made my own! I made anchor charts for numbers 1-10 and 5 pages of simple homework to go with our lessons. I know I'm not the only one who has to teach fact families and number partners, so you might as well benefit from me making these! You can now find them in my TPT store! Also, I drew the clip art specifically for this set, but let me know if you're interested in it, and I can put that in my store too. I made both boys and girls with numbers 1-9 on their shirts.

Have I mentioned how much I love teaching math?!

Sunday, July 14, 2013

How to Lesson Plan Without a Teacher's Manual

In an ideal world, all teachers would start the school year with all of the supplies they need. This is not Utopia though, this is the real world! Thanks to a little debacle with the publishing company, my teachers manual to the completely new and different version of our math book didn't arrive. It's coming next week (theoretically), but I have plans to do for THIS week. That leaves the big question, how do I do that?!

This is definitely not the 1st (or even the 2nd!) time this has happened to me in the last 8 school years! I've learned some great tricks to this little problem!

Option 1:
Plan your lessons based on the student edition. This was my original plan, but then there was a bit of a snafu. There are 2 volumes of the student book and the ONLY difference in a teeny tiny "1" or "2" in the bottom corner of the book. Silly me grabbed the "2" on my way out the door. So this student copy was of no use to me.

Option 2:
Get an online copy of the book! Many books allow teachers full online access to the curriculum manuals and student editions online! Now for some programs this is a "paid only" option that may not have been purchased by your school/district. SSSSHHHH! I HAVE A SECRET....There is a trick around this problem!

Look up the website used to purchase the curriculum and then find the link for a "virtual sample." Most publishing companies let you enter your school email, the school name, and the address/zip code, and then you get instant access to at least some of the curriculum! Lucky for me, my curriculum gave me access to see everything for 120 days! I can't print from it or anything, but I can look at everything I need to write up my lesson plans! Also, I've learned sometimes you find online materials that correspond to your curriculum that you never even knew about.

My math book starts with decomposing numbers, so I think I may go make a fun little activity to go with this! The curriculum has a boring one, so I figure I can make a cute version and use the same vocabulary when I teach it. I already have a great idea for how to do this! Now to determine if I'm motivated enough to draw the clip art to go with it, or just be lazy and use some of the adorable stuff out there!

Thursday, July 11, 2013

We're off to a great start!

Have I mentioned how much I'm LOVING my new school?! My teammate and I have jumped right in together and it's going great. I feel like we compliment each other really well. It's like we already have this cohesive mesh where we don't even have to talk about who is going to do what, we just seem to know what needs to be done and do it while helping each other out in the process. She is full of energy and I feed off of it. It's so much fun in our room!

We take turns teaching lessons and playing interventionist for the kids with the behavioral and academic struggles. It takes sooo much of the stress off of the way I was used to teaching for the last couple of years. Plus we have a super sweet ABA therapist who is with us too. I'm so used to doing it all on my own that it's crazy having so much help all the time! It's amazing!

I'm loving our kids too! They are so quirky in their own little way. I really like that my co-teacher worked with most of them last year because the kids are being very much themselves instead of doing that shy, reserved thing kids do that first week while they figure out what is going on. I can see who struggles in different areas and I've started planning interventions and implementing them with my co-teacher. It's working out well that we completely agree on what the kids needs and are willing to jump right in and start working on these things now before they become a bigger challenge later.

We're off to a great start and now I'm off to bed! It's been a busy week. Sorry there isn't much to take pictures of this week because it's mainly been review activities and centers. Hopefully we'll have something new and exciting for you to see next week!

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Identifying Student Needs and Causes of Behaviors

With a new class and a new school, I find myself jumping in and hitting the ground running. I want to know "what's the deal with this kid?" for pretty much every kid in my class. I have 10 kids this year with various disabilities. They each have their quirks, but there is an important question to ask. WHY??
This can be answered with the following questions:
What is causing certain behaviors? 
What is the purpose of the behavior?
What happens if I push their limits?
How can I help them?

So some teacher love the "honeymoon period" as the kids are extra sweet getting to know their new teachers. My partner and I have a different philosophy. We push their limits from the get go! We want to see what happens when we push their buttons during this calm 1st week of summer school before we jump into the more challenging academics next week. This way we can create a plan and start working on interventions immediately!
A Few Examples!
Asking for help
"Miss Parnello, Can you help me spell ____?" My answer, "Nope! You're smarter than you think you are. I won't help you until you try!" (this is a phrase I use A LOT in SPED thanks to far too much learned helplessness!). Now why didn't I just help him? I looked at his paper, I saw he hadn't written a single letter, and I determined he just didn't think he could do it! The purpose of the behavior was to avoid the challenge of doing it on his own because of a lack of confidence. The outcome: he spelled all but one letter of the word correctly! Plus, we chatted when he finished the word and I asked him why I didn't help. His response, "I'm smart and I can do it myself." Look, he just gained some confidence! Easy peasy, lemon squeezy!

Making Noise
Yesterday a kiddo kept making noises and silly faces excessively. I was stuck trying to decide if it was "stimming" or attention seeking, although I was pretty convinced it was negative attention seeking. None of our negative consequences seemed to help at all. Nor did praise for stopping the behaviors. How did I figure out a motivator? I took his paper from our morning writing prompt that said "I love to ___" and the kids said the things they liked. I discovered an iPhone/iPad game that he loved and was school appropriate. Today he had a chart of 10 images from the game taped on his desk (thanks to my awesome partner!). He got an "X" on one image every time he did a negative behavior. By the end of the day he still had 9 pictures and earned 9 minutes of his game. What did we learn? He can control the behaviors, but needs an appropriate motivator. Also, I have gum as a backup plan in case it really is a sensory need and he needs to fulfill! Today he had a GREAT day!

Off Topic Conversations
A kid asks questions about things from 5 minutes ago...repeatedly throughout the day. Plus he is constantly distracted while you are talking to him, and keeps turning around a lot to see what is happening around him. What's the problem? This is something newbie teachers would just get annoyed by and think the kid was being difficult. After a bit more experience, you learn this is a sign of a sensory processing disorder! NONE of these behaviors are in his control! How can you help? Sound reducing headphones for things he doesn't need to listen to, and a speaker with a microphone on the teacher for when he does need to listen. Complications: kids who don't like headphones, and speakers that can be very distraction for other students who are bothered by sound. I know, it's not an easy solution, but you can see the behaviors have a cause. 

Impulsive & Physical Behaviors
Kid is constantly calling out, grabs others when he needs/wants something and gets overly emotional to minor problems. The cause? Impulse control and inability to self-regulate! He can't help himself! The solution? Teach him how to catch himself! Teach him how to find that moment where he is about to lose it and what to do to stop it! How? Push the limits! We made our little guy lose on purpose when we know this is a HUGE trigger. I saw him get upset and start to get mad and cry and I gave him minimal prompts. I simply said, "This is a game for fun. It doesn't matter who wins or loses. Right now your goal is to figure out how to turn your mood around and figure out how to calm down" and I walked away. The outcome? He cried for about 30 seconds, said "good game" to the other team, and moved on. SUCCESS!! We praised him like CRAZY!!! We made him feel like a million bucks so he knows how great it feels to turn those emotions positive instead of blowing up!. We know he won't always react like this, but it's a start! We know what kind of prompts he needs to be successful.

Off Task
A couple years ago I had a kid who was always off task during writing despite his reading and spelling abilities. It was driving me crazy prompting him to get back to work all the time! Finally I had enough and asked why he wouldn't ever finish his work even when he knew what to do and how to do it. His response, "It makes my hand hurt! My hand gets so tired trying to write on the lines." It turns out because of his fine motor delays he got physically fatigued long before he was mentally tired of the assignment. The solution: He was allowed to type his writing assignments whenever possible. He instantly started writing stories that were twice as long as they were before!

Always remember: KIDS ALWAYS DO THINGS FOR A REASON! The trick is to find out what it is and how to fix it! Sometimes it's a really simple solution!

Monday, July 8, 2013

A Great First Day!

I can't imagine today going better! My partner and I had very little time together to plan for today thanks to me getting sick and her leaving the country on a family trip during planning week. She did a bunch during her days of planning week, then I did a lot of work prepping the room when she was gone. We totally meshed as we were teaching together today! Without much discussion we were able to ebb and flow in our teaching. Not one talking over the other. We were really a team. It was perfect! We both have such a great feeling about this year!

We have some quirky kids in our group, but they responded really well to us! One kiddo I was warned could have terrible days, but I made a huge point of setting limits as well as making a personal connection with him. And it worked! He had a great day!

Case and point...these sparkle crayons. Yep that was my connection! My moment where I got him to really connect. How? I GAVE HIM A PAPERCLIP! Yep, that's it.

I was given a set of rainbow paperclips as a small part of my present from the Head of School for the first day of school. My little kiddo saw them, came up with a great idea of how he could use one green paperclip for part of a project at home. Suddenly I had a reward! I told him if he kept it together and made good choices, he could have one of my green paperclips. He worked very hard for it! Someone even stomped on his hand (by accident while doing a puzzle on the floor) and he didn't freak out! Yay!

So I gave the paperclip to him when it was time to go home. He was THRILLED! In return he gave me a big hug and gave me 2 of his sparkle crayons that were in his special pencil case. So cute! They are of course saved in my desk in case he misses them tomorrow. The gesture was just so great! It's the connection I needed to make sure we get him off to a great start and fix his struggles we know he has.

Connections are your best tool in making your tough kids love you and not be so tough!

Our sweet little present included more than paperclips! My favorite part... I already have a chocolate stash in my desk thanks to her! Oh and other things: a notepad, sharpie, nice writing pen, pencil, and tic-tacs. All the silly little things teachers love.

PS- This is my new social skill curriculum that arrived today! Have any of you used it?

Sunday, July 7, 2013

It's the first day of school tomorrow!

Yep, you read that right...school starts in 13 hours!! I will soon be meeting my brand new class at my brand new school! For those of you who are new, I'm teaching at a school with extended school year for all students. The kids go to school for all of July before a 3 week break in August.

This is the my 8th "First Day of School" as a teacher! I can't believe how fast time has flown by! I can't believe how far I've come in my career! I started in Phoenix, Arizona 8 years ago with the most amazing mentor teachers in the world! One of which is a large part of why I switched from general to special education 4 years ago.

I have learned sooo much since I started teaching. I remember my first year read A LOT of story books because I was terrible at judging how long activities would take and I would end up with an extra 10 minutes to fill here and there. Then of course I went the opposite direction as the years went on and somehow there is never enough time in the day to get every little morsel of information into their heads that I want to!

Today I posted a great list of tips for first year special education teachers over on A Special Sparkle. Be sure to check it out my clicking the image below!

Sorry to for such a short post but I have something VERY important to do... GO PICK MY FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL OUTFIT! Did I mention that I still go "back to school clothes shopping" every year??? You should see my house right now! It's an explosion of freshly washed, brand new school clothes!

Oh, and I should probably re-paint my nails. They are currently bright blue thanks to my festive 4th of July theme I was going for last week. Time for a respectable color as I meet parents for the first time!

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

5 Days until School Starts! 4th of July Sale!!

Happy 4th of July!! It's hard to believe it's the 4th of July and the first day of school at my new job is MONDAY!! EEK!! I'm super excited to meet the rest of the kiddos (I met 2 last week)!! I also can't wait to show my teaching partner what I did to the room! She was on a family trip out of the country, so that left the whole room design and organization up to me. I emailed her pics of our monster themed classroom, but it's just not the same as seeing it in person!

I'm secretly LOVING tutoring one of my kiddos from my old school! I swear, I don't even need the cash (although it's nice), I just really like working with him! We have a happy little routine. In fact, it's working so well that we get about 4 pages of work done in an hour, even when I made it harder! Truth is, we have a deal... we get to read a book together! Yep, that's it...the whole deal. If he works hard, we get to pick any book in the children's section of the city library and I read it to him while we sit on adorable puzzle piece shaped couches. He loves it and so do I! Plus I give him the tiniest of fruit snacks (the healthy kind) when he finishes a page. I mean these things are smaller than an M&M and he thinks they're amazing. I do too actually, they're delicious!
The puzzle couch is made of these. Aren't they COOL?!

Today I was wondering around Target and honestly got downright GIDDY when I saw the worker bees setting up the Back to School section!! I know it's my 8th school year as a teacher, you'd think I'd stop getting excited, but I still do! I LOVE brand new crayons! I love the look of a freshly decorated classroom before the kids have had a chance to fiddle with things and make them look less than perfect. I love seeing the kids excited to walk into their new room!

Here's my "To Do List" before Monday:
  • Make the kids name tags for our behavior chart (with monster clip art of course!)
  • Laminate and cut out the monster heads that will go above their displayed work...eventually
  • Decide on the next couple boxes that get the pleasure of leaving the hallway of my house for their new home in my classroom
  • Figure out which box has my ocean theme unit binder so we can start our first theme unit for the year. I figure if we have to be at school instead of the beach, we should at least be able to think about the beach and the ocean!
  • Dig up my Monster Goes to School lesson and behavior cards. Don't think I didn't notice how PERFECT this is since we have a monster theme classroom! Luckily coincidence!
It's Sale Time!!!
I just realized it's been....well too long...since I had a sale! July 4th-7th everything in my store will be 20% off. Go pick up those things you've wishlisted! Click the image to go directly to my TPT store :)
Special thanks to Tammy Farhit & Christy Button for the image!
Here is a peek at a couple of my newest creations! Don't forget, you can always email me if you have a clip art request! teacherlisasclass@gmail.com

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

I'm at A Special Sparkle Today!

 Hey! I wrote a great post about easy accommodations to implement in the general education classroom. You can find it over at A Special Sparkle!

A Special Sparkle
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