Sunday, September 7, 2014

The First Week and Washington, DC

Well, the first week of 2014-2015 is in the books! I have to be completely honest here - it was a tough week. I knew my class this year was going to be collectively much lower-functioning than I've had in the past several years, but I underestimated just how different it would be, as well as how affected the students I've had before would be by the change in classmates. Add to the lower cognitive level, a new student with some extremely severe/intense sensory needs, and it was a less successful first week than I'd hoped it would be.

However! I have a plan (as much of one as I can have - it just feels good to say I've got a plan). We got our occupational therapy assistant who specializes in sensory in to see our sensory kid and give us some strategies, suggestions and materials to tide us over until he can do a full evaluation. And I've spent the weekend completely reworking my lessons and activities for this coming week.

Our September curriculum unit is focused on government, and since our first curriculum reader is about a young man who goes on vacation to Washington, DC, I decided to keep DC and the President as our narrower focus for the month. My guided reading/social studies books for the month were going to be nonfiction texts about some DC landmarks from Mary Firestone's American Symbols series: The White House, The Lincoln Memorial, and Our US Capitol. I really like these books and their "tour guide" format, but for the second week of school at least, they are going to be too complicated for this group.
(sadface - I really wanted to use these books!)

I decided to switch to fiction and go with Clifford Goes to Washington for this week. I don't usually love using character books, since they are not age-appropriate for my students, but it was the level we needed - and this book actually does cover several of the landmarks I wanted to introduce to my students, and the illustrations of said landmarks are pretty accurate! To make this book interactive and hit on some of the non-fiction info I wanted to include, I made it into a guided reading activity:

I have the book from my public library, so I scanned several pages on my printer and laminated. Then, I found real photos online of the Washington, DC landmarks shown in the book and laminated those with the official names of the landmarks:

I bound the scanned pages with book rings and put velcro on the pages and the photos. As we read the book, students will match the real photos to the corresponding scanned pages, and we will talk about each landmark as we do. I didn't scan every page in the book, just those with the landmarks I wanted to highlight. I will still read the entire book - from the library copy - and my student helper (a weekly job) will move around the group to show the scanned pictures and so students can match the photos as we go.

For my lower students, this will work on visual discrimination and matching photo to icon. My higher students will still be getting some of the nonfiction info I'd wanted to cover. I'll probably use the Mary Firestone books still with my higher students during small group time. I'm hopeful we will all be able to work up to a higher level in whole-group guided reading eventually but for now this is going to work.

Moving on...I've talked before about how I like to make a youtube playlist for each monthly unit. Have you all heard about Smart Songs? Hip hop artists/rappers Shoeless Jeff and Scott Free say, "With catchy beats and rhymes, interwoven between skits and stories, our songs explore themes in History, Social Studies and Science." Many of their songs and videos are on youtube, and my students and I love them! Here are the three I'm including in our Washington, DC/Presidents playlist for this month:

"Welcome to Washington, DC" - Many, if not all, of my students will never get to actually visit Washington, DC, so I love this video for the visual tour of DC and its landmarks. For older/higher-functioning kids, there's tons of great factual information in the rap, too.

"Presidents Rap - Washington to Obama" - I'm totally impressed by this fun recitation of the Presidents in order along with a little fact about each one. My students won't "get" most of this, but they will certainly learn the vocabulary "president" and will recognize Obama's photo at the end (love that they make the two most recent presidents' photos full screen so students really recognize them) - and it's a very catchy song!

"American Flag Rap" - The most recognizable American symbol for my students - this also has great info for higher kids but is still appropriate for young or lower functioning students. I love that they rap the Pledge of Allegiance (which we say each school day) and the Star Spangled Banner at the end of this song.

I'm so glad I discovered this group/youtube channel, thanks to a coworker! They have a lot of other videos (mostly about US government, voting, etc., as well as money and others) on youtube, as well as DVDs and CDs for sale on their website. They are also on iTunes. I love that they produce fun, cool videos and songs for today's students and still keep the info accurate and appropriate for even older students!

Monday, September 1, 2014

September Currently

It's September today, which feels crazy to me! This summer flew by.

Listening - I'm enjoying my last morning of summer with my coffee out on my back deck! I'm going to miss my free Mondays and Fridays, especially my lazy mornings!

Loving - In attempt to budget more consistently, I've decided to start using the "cash envelope system" - anyone else use this? The theory is that paying for everything in cash makes you think more consciously about what you're spending - I know when I pay for everything with my credit or debit card, it's definitely easy to throw those impulse buys that add up (and I don't really need) into the cart! September is going to be my first month using the system. I got these super-cute laminated envelopes to help!
Tabbed envelopes for each of my chosen budget categories - and I love how it fits perfectly into my wallet! I got these envelopes on etsy - here's a link to the store I got them from - she has tons of cute designs, you can choose your own categories, and they arrived so quickly! (And no, she did not ask me to advertise - I just happen to think they're great!) I'm hoping this system will allow me to save $ and be more thoughtful about purchases.

Thinking - It's my first day back to school with kids tomorrow! It's my 11th year of teaching, and I still get nervous for the first day (I don't think that's ever going to change)! I actually woke up in a panic at 6 this morning thinking it was the first day and I wasn't ready! I had to triple-check my phone for the date before I convinced myself I didn't need to be up and could go back to sleep.

Wanting - Fall weather! It's been a cooler summer overall this year, but the past couple weeks have been very hot and humid, and I'm ready for fall! I'm mostly ready to wear jeans and sweaters again! I just love fall clothes. And pumpkin spice lattes :)

Needing - I have lots of last-minute chores to do today. I'm going to use my new cash envelopes at the grocery store, which is exciting...laundry is less exciting!

3 Trips - I've been fortunate to be able to travel to some pretty cool places, both internationally and in the US...I absolutely love traveling and would love to do more of it! I've always wanted to go to Australia (I think ever since I read "Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Very Bad Day" as a kid!). I've never been to the Pacific Northwest of the US and would love to go there - preferably in the fall; how beautiful would that be? And China is another place on my bucket list!

Monday, August 25, 2014

Answering Questions About Question of the Day

After my post on my very-partial classroom reveal, I had a couple questions about my Question of the Day during our circle time, so I figured I'd answer them here:

Brie asked if I have a problem with students answering "yes" no matter what, as she has some students who would do just that!

I have those students, too, Brie! It's one of the reasons I started doing a question of the day in the first place. Some kiddos just default to "yes" (or "no," for that matter) for every question. To try to combat that, I always start with very concrete questions - such as "are you a boy?" "did you take the bus to school?" "are you wearing red?" etc. We can all call a student on an incorrect default answer if we all obviously know the answer they should give! I keep with the very concrete questions and explicitly choose questions those students have to answer "no" to, before moving onto more fun questions such as "do you like..." or "have you ever..." that staff may not actually know our students' answers to.

Peer pressure can also help here, to be honest. A girl who answers "yes" to "are you a boy" gets a chorus of "no, you're not!" from her classmates, we all have a (kind!) chuckle, and the student is invited to think about her answer and change it if needed!

You can also do an either/or question rather than yes/no, if that's easier for your students to answer - make a choice rather than answer explicitly. Sometimes I do this and then we label "Y" as the first choice and "N" as the second.

Another reader, Michie, asked about my system for Question of the Day (if I write students' names next to the answers on the chart, etc).

I don't write answers (but you definitely could!) but use velcroed name tags instead:
The question is written in the "Q" space, and names get velcroed onto the velcro strips in either the "Y" or "N" section. From there, we are able to count, tally, talk about less/more/same/etc. For the names, I just use standard name tags cut in half and laminated. They are easier for my students to see on the poster than just names written with dry erase marker on the poster.

In the photo below, next to the switch, you can see our container of name tags we use for the Question of the Day poster. All staff members have a name tag, too (and there's a blank one for any visitors to our classroom), because we all answer the question! This way, staff can model appropriate answering, as well.

Michie also mentioned that she has some very low-functioning students who would not be physically able to hit a switch to answer. I have some of those students too.

This is the yes/no switch we use. Some of my students cannot hit a switch physically. Those students can answer otherwise (eye gaze, smile or frown, nod or head shake, other movements, vocalizations, scanning techniques, touching an icon that is held farther apart than the switch is, other communication device, etc...whatever their communication method). For these students, I have them answer using their own communication method, and then assist them hand-over-hand to hit the button on our switch so they, too, get the voice output reinforcement of the switch.

If you have students who cannot yet answer a yes/no question in any way, I would stick with concrete questions you know the answers to, and assist them to answer until they are able to answer in some way themselves.

Also, in the absence of a two-button switch, I've often "labeled" (verbally) my hands in conversation with students. "Do you want _______, yes [wag left hand] or no [wag right hand]?" or, "Do you want option 1 [wag left hand] or option 2 [wag right hand]?" Students who do not have the fine motor function to hit a switch can often either look at the correct hand for an answer, or touch it (you can put your hands anywhere within their reach, further apart or closer together than a fixed switch, etc). This is also a great, versatile method of questioning if you find yourself without a usually-used switch or other communication method - like out in the community or in another room at school you've forgotten to bring along everything you need! I've made my students crack up before using this method for a four-option question by using my hands and feet, sitting on the floor and waving all four in the air at the mall as I wait for them to choose! "Should we go to the clothing store [left hand], the book store [left foot], the music store [right foot] or the food court [right hand]?" You do what it takes for communication!

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Teacher Week: When?

**If you are here from the Special Ed Freebie Hop/Giveaway, click here for my post/freebie/to continue the hop!**

I missed yesterday's Teacher Week post on the "Why" of home too late from my weekly family dinner at my cousin's and just went to bed instead! So, moving onto today's "When"...all about scheduling!

I don't get my specials schedule until next week, and since there are a lot of specials that we go to as a whole class - and yes, I go with my class to every single special! (physical/occupational therapy, sensory, art class, music therapy, music class, adaptive PE, library, padded gym, life skills) and also those specials that only some kiddos go to or the whole class doesn't attend at once (speech therapy, swimming), I really can't create my daily schedule yet.

It makes me crazy, to be honest! I really wish I could have my schedule set and ready already! But, it is what it is. I did get this project done today - this is my usually unused white board in my circle time room, and it's going to become our weekly classroom schedule once I get it all set:
This is really going to be a schedule for me and my classroom staff rather than my students, as my students get our daily pocket chart visual schedule (and individual daily schedules as needed). This one is just going to be text. My plan is to type all our schedule items, laminate, and put sticky magnets on the back so I can move schedule items around as needed.

I used blue painters tape to make the grid, after measuring and marking the grid with dry erase marker, and I must say it looks better than I'd expected! No, it's not perfectly straight (and yes, that's going to bug me at some point since I will be staring at it every day during circle time and guided reading!) but it's definitely going to work. I wrote our times with dry erase marker in half-hour blocks - starting at 8:30 because that's when all students are at school. They begin arriving at 8 and straggle in from buses until 8:30. I'm going to be making the magnet schedule cards this weekend. I used Laura Friedman's Editable Name Plates for Dots on Turquoise Lovers for the day labels on the corkboard strip up top.
View from the door of the circle/morning meeting room.

Until I can get my daily schedule figured out, I'm at least planning out what's going to happen our first few weeks (whenever each activity/lesson happens during the day) using a simple little template I made on powerpoint - I've been carrying this paper copy around with me as I prep this week. My sketch of lessons for the first week of school:
At the top, I have the date, our pattern (on our calendar for the month) and our curriculum unit title (ULS). The other categories at the left are the other lessons/subjects I have to explicitly plan for - so this schedule doesn't include other daily stuff such as IEP goal work, therapies, or other every-day routines that mostly stay the same. Also not included are our curriculum unit materials, since I'm getting together with my grade-level team next week to plan out those (materials that supplement the curriculum until will usually go into the last section - ULS extras - but for the first week of school we'll not be delving into that too deeply yet). You may also see some titles of products I've purchased from TPT recently or in the past! :) Those include:

-There Was An Old Lady Who Swallowed Some Books activities from Primary Graffiti's Old Lady Swallowed Sub Tubs
-"I Have a Backpack" sight word reader from Maria Manroe's Bundle of Books
-What's In a Name graph from Erica Butler's Name Graph Freebie
-Name Chant poem from Deedee Wills' Poetry Station and Shared Reading Monthly Set
-writing illustrations using A Sketchy Guy's Blank Faces Clipart
-September quilt art from Reagan Tunstall's Geometric Math Quilts
-Math from Wayne County's Essential Elements resources I talked about in this post, as well as Breezy Special Ed's More/Less Task Cards and Maria Manroe's Comparing Numbers set

The check marks I've made say whether I've prepped the materials (first check) and set up the activity in the classroom (second check). I like this little template also because it's going to be super-easy to copy/paste into my official lesson plans once I do get my classroom specials schedule!
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