Thursday, November 13, 2014

IDA Conference Day 1

HTTP://’m sitting at the 2014 IDA (International Dyslexia Association) conference in San Diego and loving every minute of it! I’m in teacher-nerd heaven here! By the end of Day 1 I’ve already taken almost 8 pages of notes! and I still have 8 more seminars to attend!

The speakers are very intriguing and come from various different viewpoints to share an overlapping focus. I chose the comprehension-focused symposium for Day 1 of the conference.  We are focusing on the brain, vocabulary, and in depth research about how comprehension is formed including the critical factors needed for strong comprehension. We also looked into the way sentence comprehension is far more complex than we tend to realize and the importance of appropriate forms of assessment to determine true comprehension ability.

We’ve learned about how comprehension and reading affect the brain, which I found completely fascinating. Through my work and research for teaching students with dyslexia, I’ve learned about how the dyslexic brain works differently, but I’m now able to add to that knowledge the affects of reading comprehension skills on the brain. I never even thought to research comprehension and the brain! The imaging studies were so intriguing that I took pictures of the screens during the presentation. Last year I taught a Parent Education seminar about students with reading problems and the brain was one focus of my presentation. I’m so excited to be able to add to that portion of my presentation for this year!

The sentence structure has a direct effect on comprehension of a reading passage. Students are often assessed on their ability to understand the overall meaning of a text, but less often instructed and assessed on their ability to comprehend individual complex sentences. She told us the intervention protocols she used to help students who were struggling, but unfortunately this is out of the scope of my current students. It's out of the current age range for our school since it was directed more for high school aged students, but it was interesting nonetheless. 

I'm planning to write a series of posts with the information I've learned. What topics would you like to read about more in depth?

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Getting Ready for a New School Year

Hey everyone! I know it's only June, but it's time to get ready for a new school year! Our school follows a very unique schedule, so we actually start school in July and every child does summer school on top of the regular school year. Since all of our students have learning differences, none of them can afford to take 3 months off. This means I go back to work on Monday, and the kids start right after the 4th of July!

What's New This Year?
There are so many new and exciting changes for me this year!
  1. New Teaching Partner! I'm happily teaching with my friend Allison this year. Neither one of us saw this change coming, but we think we'll be an amazing team together! I'm keeping my grade level, so I'll continue to teach 1st/2nd this year.
  2. New School (location) Our school is undergoing major renovations, all of which are for the better. We are all very excited to see the new changes! The one major effect of these renovations is that we have to move our entire school for the summer, then we'll have to move it all back in August. This means Allison and I will be in a new classroom when we get back, which is bigger than the previous size it had. Looks like we get to experiment with classroom arrangement!
  3. Wilson Certification I am thrilled that I was selected to become Wilson Certified to teach using the Wilson Reading System. I've been told it will be a ton of work on top of my regular teaching schedule, but I know it will be worth it. I get to work one-on-one with a really great kid, and I'm super excited to help this kid grow! 
There is so much to think about! What themes should we teach? What changes should I make to the way we ran the room last year compared to this new school year?

What changes can you expect for this school year?

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Wearing Blue for Autism Awareness Day!


At work we are all wearing blue for Light It Up Blue to support Autism Awareness. Kids with autism are by far my favorite to teach! When I changed schools, one of my biggest worries was that I had to give up my spectrum kiddos who I love so much. I was happily surprised when I discovered I still get to work with kids who have autism. 

Kids with Autism make me think in new ways and look at the world from a new perspective. I get a special level of excitement when I see that I am helping them understand the world a little better. Each year on April 2nd I like to think of a kid or two with autism and how much they have grown, as well as how much they have made me grow as a teacher. 

Each year I have one kid who I feel a special connection with. Each year I pick a "special project" kid who I feel no teacher has really understood, and I really want to help. This year, I knew from the very first day who my "special project" was going to be. Several other teachers had said, "he's cute, but I just don't get him!" or, "I tried, but I just can't connect with that kid!" From the moment I met this boy, I knew I could help him. I was the teacher who understood him.

When we started the year everything out of this kid's mouth came across as rude. He was incredibly blunt, contradicted everything you said, never wanted help, and just plain had the power to drive you crazy. Working with kids like him for several years helped me see that he didn't know this is what he was doing. He didn't understand what was expected or was perceived as weird or rude. It was our job to teach him these things. 

We taught him to politely question things he didn't understand instead of talking back. He started to ask questions starting with "This is not me being rude, I really want to know…" and then he'd ask his question. Often these would be things like "why do you tell me to worry about myself when I ask about a kid, but then you don't just worry about yourself? You worry about everyone."Or another time, "Why did you help _____ when he got hurt? He's not very nice to you and he never listens to you. Why would you help him? He doesn't deserve for you to be nice to him."I taught him about how you can be nice to others, no matter how they treat you. He is still mystified by this concept, but he gets it a little more. Yesterday a kid bonked his head and I grabbed an ice pack. He told me "I thought your job was to teach us math and stuff. Why do you help kids who get hurt? That has nothing to do with school work." This was funny and made me laugh. The life of a teacher… it's more than just teaching.

For the last week this little guy has been totally "with it" and nearly brought me to tears of joy repeatedly! Yesterday was April Fools and he remembered my co-teacher is terrified of spiders so he put a giant plastic furry one (that he brought from home) on her desk and made her scream! After she calmed down she was so proud of him that he actually thought about her AND thought of something so clever! This kid pretty much only talks to me. He'll participate in her lessons, but will never randomly talk to her. He's definitely "my" kid. 

Now for the moment that touched me the most… 

Last Friday we had a board game afternoon. The kids were being really good, plus some of them suck at winning/losing games, so it was a social-emotional lesson for some of them. I was playing Sorry with multiple of my autism spectrum kiddos. This was just by coincidence since they got to pick the groups. I was able to see how they have learned to take turns, help each other, and win/lose gracefully. All of these things were a struggle when we started the year. They were doing so well, that I decided to leave the room to grab a snack from the corner store while my co-teacher watched the class. 

I told the kids what I was doing and got up. Suddenly my "special project" kid said "No! Don't go!" I was very confused since the kids were doing so well. I asked him, "Why don't you want me to go? Do you want more help with the game, or do you just want me to stay with you guys?" and this was his response, "I want to keep hanging out with you! Don't go!" I assured him the corner store was in the school parking lot and I'd be back in 5 minutes, before he'd be leaving to work with a specialist. He agreed and I made sure to get back speedy quick. 

I know…this seems silly to be excited over. I should explain… This munchkin generally doesn't connect with adults, and if anything tries to shoo them away. Once I did a journal prompt that said "My favorite thing about Ms. Parnello is…" and this kid told me "I don't know what to write. I don't hate you or anything, but I just don't know what to say. There isn't anything I really like. You're just you." So for this kid to beg me to stay, that was AMAZING! Plus he started holding my arm when he talks to me this week. For anyone who knows anything about autism, physical touch is a big deal! 

Here's to many more years of "special project" kids and helping them to see the world in new ways while they help me to do the same.

Wearing my blue today!!

Monday, March 31, 2014

Autism Awareness Month!

Happy April Everyone!!

April is Autism Awareness month, which as you must know, is something very dear to my heart. Kids with autism are my favorite group to teach! They make my brain work in new ways, and constantly keep me on my toes. They also have a way of putting me in my place with their brutal honesty! Hahaha! Now it's time to spread my love of autism this month!

Autism Awareness Clip Art Set
In honor of Autism Awareness, I've created a brand new set of clip art! This set includes images with and without words.

Also, Chris at Autism Classroom News has TONS in store for you this month. She has already set up links for free autism related items!

Plus, I'm joining her in a special sale April 2nd and 3rd. All of my special education products will be 15% OFF!! Chris made the most adorable sale banner using my clip art!

Don't miss my latest post on A Special Sparkle about dyslexia!!

Thursday, March 27, 2014

TPT Sale + Curriculum Piloting

It's time for a Spring Cleaning TPT Sale! Everything in my TPT store is on sale for 20% off!! My store is on sale Friday-Monday! To see the full list of sale participants, please visit  Georgia Grown Kiddos!

This would be a great time to pick up my new Insect Research Report for Primary grades!

My class LOVED doing this project and they turned out completely adorable when we did this earlier this school year! Your kids will love it too. It's my favorite way to introduce students to the world of research projects. I simply lay out a pile of books and teach the kids how to find the information, rephrase the information, and cite sources in the bibliography. The students feel like such "big kids" by doing a research project! This was part of a much larger unit. Be on the lookout for the full unit in my store soon!

Curriculum Piloting

This spring I am piloting not ONE but TWO different curriculum programs with my small groups. Each for a very different reason.

I love my reading group! They are sweet as can be, but they are also students with disabilities and need more practice than the average group of kids. I hit a frustration point about a week ago when I saw my kids making progress but not enough to move forward. We have practiced the material so many times that the kids started to memorize words and it made it impossible for me to tell when they were really LEARNING something.

I went to my assistant principal and voiced my concerns and out popped a new curriculum! Apparently it was already in the works to train some teachers on it, and we have some of the materials already. I was using Wilson FUNdations and it works for so many of our students, but not the ones with more severe reading challenges. Now I'm testing out the materials and using the Wilson Reading System. I am loving playing around with the program! Since I don't have the full system or the official training I get to make it my own for awhile! The kids think it's great because they get to do all this new stuff and they feel special that they are the only group that gets to do the fun new reading activities. Thankfully the two programs are by the same publisher and follow identical patterns and structures. It has been ridiculously easy to plop the kids into the new program!


SRA Number WorldsThis is the new math program I'm testing out. The other teachers trying it out already love it but the publishers didn't originally send materials for my grade to try. I just got the samples today, so I'm excited to try it out starting next week! Have any of you used Number Worlds? What do you think about it?

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Presenting at Parent Education Seminars

This year I changed jobs and it was one of the best decisions I've ever made. One of the perks has been my ability to expand my career horizons. As a teacher, it's very easy to see your life as A) being a classroom teacher forever or B) becoming an administrator of some sort. This job has helped me see that I have more options than that.

One such option I've been able to experience has been parent education seminars. I know this may not sound thrilling, but when my whole world involves talking to 7 year old students in special education, my world can feel quite small sometimes. Yes, I have a life after work, but 8+ hours a day feels like my whole world some days. These seminars allowed me to use a whole other portion of my brain. After so many years of education experience, I take for granted how much I know and understand about children, reading acquisition, special education, and the reasons for why kids learn certain ways.

My first seminar I was a small piece of a larger simulation. I loved every minute of it and would gladly do it every year. It had such an impact on the parents that I was simply in awe of how effective the seminar was for simulating the world of a child with dyslexia. Realistically it simulated almost all learning disabilities and the classroom challenges associated with it. You can read my full review and reaction to the experience HERE at A Special Sparkle.

My second seminar was "Does my child have a reading problem?" which was to help parents identify signs that their child may have more than a typical struggle with reading. This was my first seminar where I was the main presenter along with a coworker who did it with me. I was beyond nervous, but it went quite well! We had little quizzes to get parents thinking and even a paragraph written by a child with dyslexia that they had to "edit" and figure out what it said. The story got the parents thinking and gave a great example for me to present the ways children with dyslexia make errors in their writing and the reasons behind it. There were moments where they asked questions and I instantly had the answers, which made me feel good about all the things I have come to learn over the course of my career as a teacher.

There was one moment that caught me completely off guard and caused the room to go silent for a moment. One set of parents was Hispanic and raised their hand to ask a question. They struggled to find the words and ended up asking in Spanish out of desperation as they tried to think of the right words in English. Starting my career in Arizona, there were countless conferences I conducted in broken Spanish. When the parents asked the question, I repeated it in English and then spouted out the answer in Spanish without even thinking! They wanted to know if kids with Dyslexia had a harder time learning to read if they spoke 2 languages. After I answered that they may take longer, but of course they could learn, I had to giggle and explain to the rest of the group what just happened when I burst into another language without warning!

I have a whole set of slides to share about reading disabilities, but I need to tweak them before I can share them with you. Right now they have boring backgrounds and lack visuals on some of the slides. The marketing team wanted the focus to be on the 2 of us talking rather than the slides. I need to make it more visually appealing before I show all of you! More to come!!

Have you ever presented or attended parent education seminars? What was the topic?

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Upcoming Special Ed Seminars

I have a couple seminars coming up that I'm really looking forward to. The first is about experiencing dyslexia by the International Dyslexia Association. They have created a series of simulations for teachers and parents to experience what it is like for a person with dyslexia to complete reading/writing tasks, especially in a school setting. My station is for parents to do a series of tasks with their non-dominant hand. In my case that would require me to do things left handed. Funny fact: I injured my right hand when I was younger and actually CAN do many thing left handed, but I'm certainly not good at it! I'm really excited to do this seminar and especially excited to see the reactions of parents!

The second one is titled "Does my child have a reading problem?" and I'm one of 2 lead speakers!! It's exciting and a little nerve wracking. I'm working on the PowerPoint for it this weekend. I know tons about teaching reading to kids. Some days I am caught off guard when I just stop to think about reading and how to identify a child with a problem. This has a tendency to happen when I have a student shadow in my class as a potential child for our school and I can usually tell within an hour what challenges they have without ever reading their paperwork since it often doesn't arrive right away. It's still strange to think I'm an expert presenter :)

Now I have to ask for YOUR help! If you were concerned your child had a reading problem, what type of questions would you ask?? I'm presenting and really want to know what information I should have ready in the presentation, and what info I should be ready to answer verbally during the Q&A session at the end.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Chewigem GIVEAWAY!!

Hello everyone!! I received an awesome oral sensory necklace from Chewigem. My student absolutely loves it. It is a sturdy rubber necklace that withstands the endless chewing by one of my students who wears it all day. I especially love the pouch it comes with to keep it clean.

Please read the full review on A Special Sparkle, but you can enter to win right here! One lucky winner will receive the bendable soft rubber dog tag style necklace in camouflage green! It would be great for any kids who loves to nibble or suck on something.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Creating Art in the Classroom

This year I've come to realize that when I've done art in the classroom, it would more accurately been called "crafts!" I never realized there was more to 1st/2nd grade art than crayons, construction paper, and tempera paint. My school is currently between art teachers and I've volunteered to teach art to my own class during this time. Additionally, I've had some time to observe art teachers, and explore a bit of youth art projects on my own. Here is a peek at two of my favorite projects.

Project #1: Kandinsky
This one is by far my favorite! The kids loved every moment of this lesson today! Earlier this week I had the opportunity to watch a wonderful art teacher teach a lesson on Kandinsky's Farbstudie Quadrate. She played lovely music and had the kids paint circles. She had extra materials so I was able to participate and make my own painting. Check out my painting on the left! I love it so much I plan on framing it!

This inspired me to use the same techniques to create a Valentine version with my own class today! You can see my demonstration picture for the kids on the right. I played my Mozart Pandora station and painted with my class today.

  • white construction paper
  • oil pastels
  • water colors
  • painters tape
How to:
  1. Tape the edges of white construction paper with painters tape. This creates the nice white border when you're done.
  2. Using oil pastels, start with a small heart in the middle of the page. I prompted the kids to draw a question mark shape, then draw a backward one on the other side. This seemed to help kids who didn't know how to make hearts. 
  3. Then create larger hearts around it, keeping space between some of the heart outlines (this leaves space to paint with water colors later).
  4. Leave space around the outside to create a nice background. 
  5. Paint with water colors in the white spaces and over the top of the oil painted sections. The layers of color make a wonderful effect!
  6. Leave the painters tape on until the papers are completely dry or it will rip the page. 

Project #2: Picasso
Please forgive my lack of artistic ability on this one. I drew it in approximately 2 minutes to demonstrate for my class!! The kids thought this was the coolest, most fun project ever! I have a whole class of wild and silly boys, so this was right up their alley!

  • iPad or computer with photobooth application
  • White construction paper
  • Oil pastels or crayons

How To:

  1. Open Photobooth on iPad and take a self-portrait using one of the three photo styles on the right side of the screen such as swirl. This helps kids see what they would look like with their facial features in the wrong places.
  2. Use a pencil to draw the outline of the head and facial features.
  3. Use oil pastels to color and add in details.
  4. Color a bright, colorful background behind the head!

Enjoy your class of beautiful art work!!

Monday, January 6, 2014

Happy New Year!

Happy New Years Everyone!!! Sorry for the little hiatus in my posts, but December was a whirlwind! I've been spoiled by working with my co-teacher, but unexpectedly she was out for 2 weeks in December. Me + 11 boys in Special Ed = Organized(ish) Chaos! I decided to take the holiday break to refresh my batteries and now I'm ready to go for 2014!!

We had a teacher day on Friday, and worked with our teacher teams. I'm on the Math Team. My project is to get to know Woodin Math and see how we can use it to help the struggling math kiddos at our school. If you know anything about it, I'd love to hear it!

Today was the 1st day back from break with kids and it was good to see them all again! They were all super excited to be back and definitely a chatty bunch! After the crazy month of December we jumped right in where we left off and picked up our usual routine.

Today we were working on creating compound and complex sentences. I can't believe how much their writing has progressed! Some of them could barely write a simple sentence and now are filling up full pages. We are a transition school and I feel like this is the biggest area I can help them move to the general ed classroom again when the time comes.

Our theme for this month is Famous Americans. Every year I've made the Evan Moor Theme Pockets for Famous Americans. I LOVE the project but it takes time to make that many books. I haven't decided if we're making the book or not, but we're definitely making the activities. I've also found this great Person of the Month book by Scholastic. I'm going to tweak the format and do each person for a day or two instead. I know this is a very condensed version, but my kids seem to have very little knowledge beyond presidents and I want to expose them to as much as I can. We're also going to do an "inventors" unit later this year so I may save a few people for that.

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