Friday, September 27, 2013

We Received a Signed Julia Cook Story Book :)

So my obsession with Julia Cook and her amazing social skills books continues! One of our kids has been struggling with taking complements (that actually upset him) and his parents asked about a good social skills book to help with this. Of course Julia Cook has a great one and I recommended it to the family called Thanks for the Feedback, I Think.

Then I got an amazing surprise! Julia Cook sent me a signed copy of the book!

My kids absolutely LOVE the "RJ books" as they like to call them thanks to the main character in many of the stories! When I held up the envelope and ask who Julia Cook was, they instantly knew it was the author of the RJ books.

I told them sent us the book and even signed it for us, and then one of them shouted, "WOW!! She must be a really nice lady!!" It worked out perfectly because we were doing a lesson on responding to text by drawing pictures. I used her book and the kids all had fun drawing pictures of RJ and the other kid characters in the story. (I'll show you their adorable illustrations later, I have them on my work computer).

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

10 Tips for Teamwork in Special Education

This week has shown me just how crucial it is to have solid teamwork in special education. It's essential that every specialist is in clear communication with the core special education teachers who work with the students.

This week Lauren (my co-teacher) and I have been in constant communication about our plans for specific students and the interventions we want to implement to help each of our students success. We even write our emails together over the phone at night just to make sure we're on the same page before communicating information to a parent who has sent us a late evening email.

We've also been working with an Education Specialist and an OT to help one of our students with writing and fine motor work. We've discussed the baseline (starting point) information as we as our desired outcome. We've talked about who is going to provide the key services, and how the others will help supplement them and encourage the student to generalize the behaviors into our regular classroom day.

The OT is so important in our classroom with such young students. Unfortunately, I didn't have one to consult with at my last school. I feel like I've been learning sooo much from our OT lately! She gives me tons of totally easy strategies to  implement into the classroom to help with specific skills. She has a very full schedule, but she's been wonderful about checking in weekly with us and asking what OT concerns we've had for the week. She's instantly given us quick tips to try while she waits for her schedule to open up for more one-on-one work. This way our kids aren't waiting for help and instantly get some assistance they may need such as fidgets, motor planning work, etc.

Speech is also a crucial part of a 1st-2nd grade SPED class like ours. We have kids with various needs and the SLP is eager to meet and discuss these things with us. She also just started 2 new pragmatics (social skills) groups for our student who have been DESPERATELY needing them. I've been supplementing tons of social skills books into our text-connections writing unit! Once again those Julia Cook books have been a focal point in our class! I LOVE them!'s so great to have the SLP to talk with and discuss the social, language and articulation concerns we see in the classroom each week.

All of this communication has been very successful, but it's important to think of why it works so well for us!

  1. Be clear about student strengths and concerns. Explain what is working well and what needs to be improved.
  2. Work together to determine a desired goal or outcome. What do you want to get out of this support system for the student? What do you want the student to be able to achieve?
  3. Create a plan together to meet the goal. This should be done together, not one person deciding. In order to have an effective team, you must have buy-in from every member. This cannot happen if one person dictates how everything should be done. If you create a plan together it is more likely to be executed in a consistent and effective way. 
  4. Determine each person's role. What is each person supposed to do in this plan? Which tasks, interventions, or supports is each person expected to do in order to achieve the goal?
  5. Plan ahead to discuss progress. While creating the plan, schedule a meeting to check in with each other to determine if the interventions are working. It's easy to say, "we'll check in with each other later" and then promptly forget about it. By scheduling it ahead of time, it's more likely the meeting will occur within a reasonable amount of time.
  6. Constructively discuss the progress. During your meeting to discuss progress, identify exactly how the interventions have been implemented, what is working, and what is not working as planned. It's important there is no blame during the discussion, just a plan to improve. We like to do this meeting within a month (usually 2 weeks) of starting a new intervention. 
  7. Determine if changes need to be made. Sometimes the best laid plans do not go as expected with a child in special education. You may need to tweak the plan as a team. It's crucial to brainstorm together to decide what works best for the specific child you are helping. 
  8. Keep it positive! It's so easy to get frustrated when people are coming from different perspectives and have different ideas. Keep discussions focused on the student at hand and what really works for them.
  9. Ask for help! The best thing about working as a team is that there are other people there with you! Tell the team member the things you've tried, and what the result was so that they may give you alternatives.
  10. Celebrate your achievements! Celebrate even the small wins! Often goals in special education are long term goals. Celebrate the little milestones along the way to keep the positive momentum of the team!

Monday, September 23, 2013

Life Cycles in Action

Last week we discovered a whole pile of caterpillars right outside our classroom door. We picked up a chrysalis and a caterpillar so we could observe the full life cycle.

When we walked into the classroom this morning, we discovered that our chrysalis had turned into a full moth, and our caterpillar turned into a chrysalis! It's been so wonderful for the kids to observe the full life cycle of the moth completely by chance in the middle of our bug unit! I think the empty chrysalis and the details you can see are absolutely amazing!

This week the kids are going to be creating a mini research project on an insect of their choice. I made a mini-book outline for them as a guide, but the information will be up to them to find and write/illustrate. The kids were all very excited to pick their insects and start reading about them today! Tomorrow we'll start writing what we've learned.

Do your students do any research projects? If so, what topics do you like to use?

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

My Life as a Teacher

This week I've had little moments. Things that showed me why I'm a teacher. There have been moments where I've wanted to pull my hair out, but they haven't made me want to quit my job. They've made me want to work harder.

Tonight I watched the documentary TEACH and was excited to see something real. It brought tears to my eyes as I watched one of the teachers practically pull their hair out after a test her students took. I've done it myself on many days. It broke my heart when a teacher watched her students make a mistake on a district test and say, they've done this a thousand times, why did they get it wrong today?

When I changed schools I thought I'd be saying goodbye to my autism spectrum kiddos. It turns out I was wrong. And I'm sooo happy about that. It turns out a decent chunk of our kids are on the high functioning end of the spectrum. Lauren and I have decided to focus on what each of our kids needs and we are going to unofficially divide up our kids.

As we've started the year, we've discovered our kids each have one teacher they connect with more than the other. The thing I love about teaching with Lauren is that neither one of us cares if the other is the favorite teacher of a student. As long as they are connecting with one of us, that's all that matters. We've quickly discovered that I connect with the autism spectrum kids and she connects with the emotional kids. Not necessarily emotionally disabled, but more kids whose disorder has made them have more emotional reactions to situations.

Yesterday the social skills struggles were KILLING me! Most teachers would scream. Instead I turned to Lauren as I was about to yell, busted up laughing with her, and randomly created a social skills group on the fly!

Yesterday I read a book and when we were done the kids were expected to write two facts that they learned from the non-fiction book. Suddenly one kid said, "What book?" COMPLETELY SERIOUSLY!! He completely checked out for the entire book I read for 15 minutes! I wanted to scream. And then I realized which kid it was. He struggles with both expected/unexpected behavior and auditory processing. I realized just how much I need to work with this kid!

The social skills group I have been talking about for a week  suddenly became real. We have a new speech teacher who is actually going to do the formal pragmatics group, but I'm going to supplement it. We have several kids who need it throughout the day/week, and a group 1-2 times a week just isn't going to cut it.

This week has once again pointed out why I'm a teacher. I love it. Every minute...even the ones where I want to pull my hair out. I realize I want to scream when the kids don't get it because it means I care about them and their ability to get smarter and better at life.

Teaching is not just a job to me. It's become who I am. I write my dorky teacher blog, I create custom materials for my students, I write emails to authors who I love so that I can share the love of reading to my students. I do it all because being a teacher is who I am. I can't imagine doing anything else for a career.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Lady Bug Art and Finding Dozens of Caterpillars

Our insect theme unit is coming along nicely. Yesterday we did an art project using the knowledge we've learned about insects. The kids made an outline of a ladybug and then we filled it in with torn paper. I made this a step-by-step directions activity so the kids didn't get lost or my messy blobs that don't show what we've learned. Take a peek at our project!
(Skip to the bottom to see the MASSIVE amount of caterpillars found outside our classroom!)

1) Draw the outline of the ladybug with 3 body sections. For sizing it was easier for kids to start with the large abdomen, then move on to the smaller thorax, head, antennae and legs. 
Draw: abdomen, thorax, and head
2) Tear up scraps
3) Spread glue all over the outline (within the lines)
4) Put colored scraps in each section

Some finished products with zero teacher assistance!

Now for the excitement of our day today! 

We are the 1st/2nd classroom, but there is a K-1 classroom that just so happens to be studying insects this month too. One of the teachers came to tell me they found a massive amount of caterpillars on a pole right outside our door.

I went to look and I've NEVER seen anything like it!! There were dozens of caterpillars in various stages of the life cycle all hanging out together on this one cement pole (nowhere near a plant!)!!!! A science lesson dream come true!
Two caterpillars and a chrysalis
Just SOME of the caterpillars on the pole. Look closely to see some cocoons are empty/hatched
This moth was on the pole too, so I predict it came out and was drying it's wings, but I could be wrong.

Two empty cocoons
We collected two empty chrysalis (no idea the plural on that one!) to observe and see what they looked like. I also gently plucked one off the pole so we can (hopefully) see it hatch soon! I also took a caterpillar and put it in our classroom so hopefully it will form a chrysalis for us. We did see one wiggling on the pole forming one today, which was pretty exciting!

Do you study life cycles in your class? Which insects do you use?

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The Best Science Lesson Ever!

You know that moment in the middle of an amazing lesson when every student is responding above and beyond what you are hoping for during the lesson? It doesn't happen often...but today I had one of those PERFECT teacher moments. At one point I honestly just sat on a side table and watched my kids completely engaged and learning!
Insect drawn and labeled in the observation jar

Observations of the insect path
Yesterday I received FOSS kit for insects, but discovered they do not come with bugs nor coupons for bugs. So I did my own bug hunt yesterday. After a quick review of our insect lessons thus far, I taught the students what it means to "observe" and they each worked with a partner to observe and discuss insects. They each had an observation sheet to draw their bug and draw/write their observations (1st graders drew, 2nd graders wrote).

I have a class of only 11 kids, so I had enough bugs that every child could have their own observation jar with at least one insect inside. My kids were observing, discussing, drawing, labeling, and describing insects! It was an AMAZING teaching moment! Lauren (who HATES bugs) even stopped to video record the amazing learning happening. The kids were so engaged that they were able to each observe and draw at least 2 different insects.

It just so happens that the new speech teacher was coming to observe my class. They had such wonderful discussions with their partners that she was able to get a very strong grasp of the different needs in our class. Our Head of School was also able to see some great learning in action when she stopped by.

This was one of my most successful and fun lessons ever! Fabulous! What is your favorite lesson of all time?

Monday, September 9, 2013

Catching bugs for my class...the things I do for them...

My students are loving their insect unit! I have this plan to take my kids on a bug hunt around the school to look for bugs this week. Small problem... I went on a pre-trip on my own to see where all the bugs were. Sad discovery...there aren't any! Our school is part of a larger company next to a very nicely sculpted set of landscaping, which just so happens to get sprayed for bugs!

I decided to make sure we have some bugs to observe by finding them on my own and bringing bugs to the kids in case I can't bring the kids to the bugs when we attempt a bug hunt off the path I originally walked the other day.

In my backyard I photographed:
  • fly
  • wasp nest with wasp crawling in (not that I want it there normally, but it was handy for today's purpose)
  • aphid eggs (I think, they were small and white on the underside of leaves)
  • snail
  • spider we

I photographed and captured to bring to school: 
  • centipede
  • ants
  • roly poly bugs (pillbugs to some people)
 I will be adding these photos to my insect PowerPoint where we have be identifying and labeling various insects. The bugs themselves will be used for our observation skills lesson tomorrow. I think the kids will probably shriek when I pour out a jar of bugs into observation tubs! I'm sure Lauren will run out of the room too! My co-teacher is not a fan of bugs which is why I'm in charge of our theme this month!

This is one of the activities we did in class today. Tomorrow they will draw and label their own insects :)
This is my NEW FOSS KIT!! I'm so excited! It everything you need to study bugs! I have been making all of my own stuff thinking it would never show up, but here it is! Sadly it does not come with bug or bug mail-away coupons. Hence the bug hunt I went on in my backyard tonight! I need to go get mealworms at the store!
Have you ever used FOSS Kits? Which one is your favorite?

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Beginning with a happy science way :)

I have a whole class full of boys (sadly not a single girl), so how did I decide to start the year??? With BUGS of course! We teach a theme each month and I picked bugs since boys love all things gross. We have a whole fun series of lessons coming our way this month!

My Bug Unit:
  • Insect PowerPoint- explaining characteristics of insects
  • Work pages to identify parts of an insect, as well as draw and label them independently (scaffolded lessons that build on each day)
  • "Bug Hunt" activity
  • Insect report mini-book
All of these things have been started, but not quite ready to be published on TPT. I'll put up the full unit for you guys when I'm finished with it. Here is a sneak peek at the first page:

My best decoding starting at the top going clockwise:
-6 legs
-some insects move in big packs
-fif?? No idea, it made sense but I forget now
-pollen (they eat it he said)

I started my unit by brainstorming and that they could put anything they think of when they hear the word "insects." I wanted to know what prior knowledge we were starting with. This was also an eye opener to me that my kids have NO CLUE how to use a web! Good thing we're using Step Up to Writing this year! I differentiated this because I teach a 1st/2nd combo this year with a wide range of abilities. I had my early readers draw pictures and explain to me what they thought of, and my more advanced/older students wrote words/phrases. This is when I discovered they were trying to write whole sentences and didn't know they could shorten it just to get their thoughts out.

What is your first science theme of the year?

Monday, September 2, 2013

Tomorrow is the First Day of School

Tomorrow is the 8th "first day of school" in my teacher career. This year I had a bit of a jump start with the mandatory extended school year at my new school. I already taught all of my kiddos during the month of July.

While I wasn't thrilled about losing a large chunk of my summer, I actually really liked it. It was a wonderful way to get to know the kids, my teaching partner, and my new school! It was also nice getting to start with half days!
View from the front
Tomorrow marks the beginning of official school year. Lauren and I have a group of 11 rambunctious boys! Yep, all boys, not a single pink-wearing girl! With this in mind, I had to rearrange our desks last week. We originally had 2 rows of 5 desks, but with the changes in enrollment, it wasn't going to work with that 11th desk. I wanted a way for all of the kids to be able to face the front and be easily accessible for the 3 of us teachers to help them. Additionally, it's a special education class and some of the kids struggle with social skills, so groups don't always work well. I'm hoping this "U" shape will be the solution!
View from the back of the room

Lauren and I know we have an active group of boys, and we look forward to all the things we can accomplish with them this year. I plan on grabbing their attention with their love of bugs! We'll be kicking off the year with our insect unit! More to come on that, but for now all I have ready is the clip art. I have created a couple of science pages created for my kiddos, but it's not quite TPT ready yet.

Now I'm off to pick out my first day of school outfit! This could be a challenge, I went Back to School shopping at the outlets on Saturday. Banana Republic and Ann Taylor Loft (outlet versions) are dangerous places for me! So many cute things! Added bonus, my new kids don't have as many aggression concerns so after FOUR YEARS I can FINALLY wear necklaces again! Whoo hoo!
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