Monday, January 30, 2012

Liebster Blog and more!

Thank you, thank you to Andrea at Ideas from a Busy Bee - she gave me the Liebster Blog Award!
The rules go as follows:

1. Show you appreciate the blogger who nominated you with a thank you shout out!
2. Nominate 5 other blogs, who have 200 followers or less, by leaving them a comment.
3. Post the award on your blog.
4. Keep up with the blogs you've given the award never know when they are going to hit the blog world, big time!

So first of all, thank you so much to Andrea! Please go check out her blog - she is a fellow special education teacher and has some great ideas on her blog! She uses the Unique Learning System curriculum in her classroom, as I do, and it's always great to gain some more insight and ideas for using that resource!

The nomination part of this award is the tricky part, since there are so many wonderful teacher blogs I follow! The point of this award is to highlight blogs that have fewer than 200 followers, so that does narrow it down a bit! If I haven't mentioned your blog here, that certainly doesn't mean I don't love it! I've gleaned so much great information and ideas from all of you in the short time I've been teacher-blogging - thank you all!

And please go check out these great blogs I'm nominating:

Dawn at the Teaching Resource Resort has some great ideas and freebies on her blog! She is also trying to get a full listing of special ed teacher blogs, which I think is a great idea! Go link up with her at her "Blog Beach" if you're also a special education teacher!

Becky at Lesson Plans and Lattes is another special education teacher with some awesome ideas! I love her recent post on how she organizes her students' assessment results. If you're in sped, you know there are TONS of results and records to organize!

Brittany at Ms. Green Apple teaches middle school students with emotional and behavioral needs. Can we all just give her an award for that right now? I mean, really! Follow her for all the adventures that are sure to come along with her position!

Jen at Jen's OT for Kids has a lot of great ideas for promoting fine motor skills with your kiddos. I have to try her ice cube painting! How cool - I'd never have thought of that!

Christine at Learning Outside the Box teaches kids with learning disabilities, ADHD, and social skills challenges. She's got a lot of ideas on using technology in the classroom, too, so check her blog out!


Next, Rachel at Ms. Rachel's Room tagged me. Thanks! (This is going to make this an epically long blog post, but bear with me! I promise it'll be painless!)

The rules for this game are:

1. You must post the rules.
2. Post 12 fun facts about yourself on the blog post.
3. Answer the questions the tagger set for you in their post, and then create 12 new questions for the people you tagged.
4. Tag 12 people and link them on your post.
5. Let them know you've tagged them!

So, fun facts about me:
(curly border from Graphics From the Pond)

Here are my answers to Rachel's questions:

1. What was the name of your first pet? My first pet was a goldfish named, so originally, Goldie. My brother's fish was named Shark, which was a much better name!
2. What was your best moment as a teacher? It's hard to pick one! Something that happened really recently was one of my kiddos who has some major behavior issues, including violence towards others and self-abuse, earned "Student of the Month" for improved behavior! We have really been working on self-calming techniques and acceptable ways to express frustration, and it is starting to pay off! He was awarded it at a dance/celebration last Friday, and to hear him keep exclaiming "I'm so excited!! I got Student of the Month!!" and see his mile-wide smile was pretty darn amazing!
3. Where is your favorite place to buy clipart? I haven't bought much clipart yet, though that is slowly changing. I love KPM Doodles. She has such adorable art, and she works in a special education classroom, too!
4. What is your biggest pet peeve? People who can't stop texting someone else when they're in a face-to-face/in person conversation with someone!
5. What kind of car do you drive? I love my Honda Civic!
6. What is your favorite food? Hmm...again, it's hard to pick just one. But my weakness is pasta. If my body wouldn't hate me for it, I could eat it every night! I also really, really love zucchini.
7. What food do you HATE? Bananas. I think they are so disgusting!
8. What is your favorite winter activity? Staying inside with a blanket and coffee and a good book! I really don't like cold weather...
9. Have you ever completed a 1,000 piece puzzle? I don't think so! Maybe as a kid I helped with one my brother had going, but I've never had the patience for puzzles.
10. Where is your favorite place to buy clothes? I love, love, love Maurice's. It's a bad thing that there's one right next to the grocery store I frequent. Far too easy to just "stop in."
11. E-reader or real books? Real books! I love them. But, I will say, I have a Nook - got it last summer for a long plane ride and it was something like 1/2 off - and I really love it. I have been surprised at how much I use it - much more than I thought I would.
12. Mac or PC? PC. I just can't seem to make the switch!

Now I'm tagging 12 people:

...Okay, I lied about that part. I went looking for lovely bloggers to tag, and so many of you have already been tagged on this one at least once! I'd really love to hear from anyone - so if you haven't yet been tagged on this game (or if you'd just like to play again), consider yourself tagged by me :)

And here are 12 questions from me:

1. What is your favorite book to read to your class?
2. What's in your CD player (or most-played on your iPod) right now?
3. What is your favorite household chore?
4. What is your LEAST favorite household chore?
5. Do you make New Year's Resolutions? What was one of yours for 2012?
6. Where is someplace you'd really love to visit?
7. What is your favorite thing to do on the weekends?
8. When do you find is your most productive time to work on lesson planning/school prep?
9. If you could have an all-paid shopping spree at any store, which one would you choose?
10. What was your favorite subject when you were a student?
11. What is your favorite sports team?
12. Who is one person that inspires you?

Friday, January 27, 2012

Favorite Picture Book Linky Party

I am linking up with Happydally to talk about my favorite read-aloud picture book!

I admit I have a bit of an addiction to children's picture books. I am also very particular about the picture books I purchase and use in my classroom. Illustrations are important. For my students, they can't be extremely abstract, since my kiddos rely a lot on pictures to understand the story. Repetition of words, phrases and/or ideas is also helpful, of course. Humor is always a good thing, too! My kiddos have a wicked sense of humor, sometimes!

I have to be especially careful of the books I choose, since though my kids function at a preschool level cognitively, and are all non-readers, they are pre-teens and teenagers in actual age and, a lot of times, socially. They understand when they are read something that is babyish. Illustrations really can't feature people who look like babies or preschoolers if my kids are going to take the story seriously. I try to avoid even a character called "Mommy," for example, since that's too "little kid" for their tastes. I do a lot of changing words around when reading aloud to make the story more age-appropriate, if necessary.

That said, one of our favorite stories is The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs by Jon Scieszka. It's a fairy tale for the "cool kid" crowd. My students and I love the funny illustrations, the Wolf's hilarious, indignant attitude at his predicament, and the twist on a familiar story! We read this story for fun, but also use it when we talk about same and different, fiction vs. nonfiction and retelling/comprehension skills.

I'd love to hear from any other teachers who struggle with a large gap between reading/comprehension levels and age-appropriateness.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

lessons in bargaining

Today we were working on a healthy/unhealthy food sort (using my awesome Target Dollar Spot finds I showed in this post). One of our 'unhealthy' items was a soft drink. I admitted to my kiddos that I need to drink less pop, since I drink too much of it and it's not good for me.

A little later in the day, I was heading out of our room to pick up the kids' lunches from the cafeteria. My kids know the teachers' lounge is right near the cafeteria, and that I frequently come back from getting lunches with a pop from the machine in the lounge for myself. Today, one of my guys piped up with, "Remember, don't drink too much pop!" I was so proud of him - he'd remembered the lesson! Of course, I left my dollar in my pocket and skipped the pop.

This same kid is a very picky eater who we struggle to get to eat vegetables. As I was dishing out his lunch, I put one small piece of broccoli on his plate, and told him that since he said I couldn't have pop today, I could tell him to eat a piece of broccoli.

Well, he looked up at me with a sly little grin and replied, "Miss Kara, go get yourself a pop."

I think my staff and I gave ourselves ulcers from trying not to laugh so hard. I love these kids!

I wanted to share photos of a few things we've been working on, but my computer is giving me issues tonight. Hopefully soon.

Monday, January 23, 2012

It doesn't stay at work...

My brother has a job he doesn't think about after he leaves for the day. He simply doesn't have to. Now, you could not pay me enough to do what he does - it's difficult, demanding work, in an area I neither excel in nor enjoy. At all. But sometimes I envy him the ability to "leave it at the office," as it were.

Today I took too much home from school, and not in the lesson plan/project/grading way. I'm sure you know what I mean. I am anxious for a student whose family was just thrust into crisis mode via a very traumatic event this past week. I am sad and frustrated for a student whose bad home life just seems to get worse. I'm worried about a student whose health issues (seizures) have been getting worse lately. I'm agonizing over (probably too much) a passive-aggressive note I received from a parent. Tonight it's all feeling piled up.

You all know how it is, don't you? Of course you do.

It's not much, but a little thing brought a smile to my face as I was browsing the internet tonight. Have you all seen the Tumblr blog Hey Girl Teacher? The pictures have been popping up here and there on Pinterest lately. Basically, someone who is not Ryan Gosling posts photos of Ryan Gosling with captions like the following:
Some are funny, some more serious, some flirty, all a bit tongue-in-cheek. I browsed through them all and grinned a little. If you need a small pick-me-up aimed specifically at the hard-working teacher you are, check it out.

It really sometimes is the little things.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Shout-out to Michigan! (freebie!)

Are there any other Michigan teachers out there, other than me and Ms. Rachel? I'm sure there are. Trolls or Yoopers, Go Blue or Go Green, this one's for you, Michiganders! Can I get a shout out for the Mitten State? (Have you heard Wisconsin is trying to claim status as the Mitten State?! Preposterous!)

Our February unit is all about our wonderful state of Michigan. I'm starting to create some materials to supplement those we get with our curriculum, and am offering up one of them as a freebie. It's a Michigan symbols dice graphing activity. I love dice graphing - such a great, multi-faceted activity.
You can click here to snag the pdf for free from my TPT store.

I'm going to eventually share all the Michigan supplemental activities...I'll also offer the activities from our current Staying Healthy unit, but I want to modify some of them before I put them online.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Clutter-Free Classroom Week 3

This week's Clutter-Free Classroom Project challenge was Start to Purge the Clutter. This week ended up being busier than I'd anticipated, and I actually didn't get to begin purging until today. But what a day it was!

Today the kids had a half day of school; in the afternoon, we had a records day to get report cards and IEP goal reports completed. Well, I brought home report cards and goal reports to do this weekend, because my classroom staff and I used the afternoon to purge our storage closet, instead!

In my "before" post, I mentioned that I inherited my classroom from a retiring teacher who'd left 30+ years of teaching stuff in the storage closet. After that, and after eight years of my teaching in that same room, I could barely walk into said storage closet, let alone find anything in it (evidence photos in the "before" post). And this is what it looked like when I left school today:
Wow. WOW! Floor space! Empty shelves! All afternoon, I kept saying to my staff, "I'm so excited!" and I think they thought I was very strange and/or scary. They were good sports about it all, though. I became the Purging Nazi. I printed off my rules for purging and made them stick with it. I paused at the most, maybe two seconds, before declaring something fit to be thrown away/recycled/given away. Sometimes, I barely looked at something before waving my hand in the "get rid of it" gesture. Later in the afternoon I had to go to a meeting, and asked them to continue without me.

"But, what if we get rid of something you want to keep?" they asked.

"GET RID OF IT ALL!" I responded, complete with flailing arms and crazy-person eyes (I can only assume. I was in the zone.).

Our biggest rule of the day was, if we haven't used it in the classroom this year or last, IT'S GONE. No matter how potentially-awesome.

It worked. I'm so, so pleased with our newly-purged storage closet. Of course, it still needs to be organized (the photo above, with its boxes and bins all lined up, gives the impression of organization, but that'd be a lie). But it's purged! I'm so stoked.

I forgot to take photos until the very end of the day, so the custodians had already hauled out some of our garbage bags, but here's some purging evidence:

And here's our "free table" we set outside of our classroom - again, taken at the end of the day, so it'd been very picked over by other classrooms already. What's left at the end of the day on Monday I'll bring to Goodwill:

...I haven't yet told my classroom staff I want to do the rest of the room next...Oh boy.

Have you started purging? Head on over to the Clutter-Free Classroom Project to link up!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Cover your sneeze!

We did such a cute project today for our "Staying Healthy" unit! I can't take credit for the idea - it comes from Mrs. Saylor's Log. We have been talking a lot about how to keep from spreading germs, and the importance of covering your coughs and sneezes by using your shoulder or a kleenex. Mrs. Saylor's project was a perfect application! I modified it a bit, changing the poem slightly and using photos of my kids instead of drawn faces.

Our poem says:

"Cover your cough,
Cover your sneeze,
Keep your germs
away from me, please!"

The kids cut out their poems and photos and pasted to their chosen paper, colored the hand (I googled 'hand clip art' to find one I liked) to match their skin color, and glued the kleenex and hand to their photo. When I read the poem to the kids, because it ended with a "please" request, one of my kiddos spontaneously piped up with a sweet "thank you!" response, so we added the thanks to their papers, too. We are all thankful for the chance to stay healthy this winter! Sicknesses are going around...
We hung them in the hallway outside our room this afternoon and already have had lots of compliments. The kids love incorporating photos of themselves into their work.

Monday, January 16, 2012

"I Have a Dream" (and a day in my life)

I just watched the "I Have a Dream" speech (you can watch it here) and it's just as affecting watching it now, for the however-manyeth-time, as it was the first time I saw it, probably back in elementary school. Like all of you, I'm sure, I share Dr. King's dream for racial reconciliation and equity. I also think about my students in context of his dream, not a dream now about race, but about ability and disability. See, I teach students who have some of the most severe disabilities out there. Many of their parents were told to give them up, send them away, or even let them die (yes, even as recently as 10-15 years ago). So, I share Dr. King's dream in a different way (and please excuse me as I change his words around, but I don't think he'd mind):
"I have a dream that all little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the intelligence of their mind or the wholeness of their body, but by the content of their character."

Switching gears completely...I am linking up with Adventures of a 6th Grade Teacher to tell what a day in my shoes looks like! I have today off for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day - it is 10 am, I am still in my pajamas, drinking coffee, and have reruns of "How I Met Your Mother" playing as I surf the web. Obviously, this is not a typical Monday, so I thought I'd share what my Mondays normally look like (putting most of it after the jump so it doesn't get so long):

5:15 - The cats wake up and paw at my face and meow loudly and knock things off my bedside table and in general prevent me from sleeping. I stumble out of bed and shoo them to the basement, where they're shut while I finish sleeping.
6:00 - First alarm goes off. I turn it off.
6:15 - Second alarm goes off. If I need to take a shower, I get up now and take said shower. If I don't, I hit snooze for another 15 minutes.
6:30 - Either get out of the shower, or finally get up. Release the cats from the basement and feed them, then start the coffee. Do hair, makeup, get dressed, etc.
7:00 - Coffee into travel mug, get together breakfast and lunch, pack school bag, bring the trash to the curb, then drive to school (about a 30 minute drive in morning traffic). Drink coffee and listen to my favorite morning talk radio.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Clutter Free Classroom week 2 - and a FREEBIE!

This week's challenge on the Clutter Free Classroom Project is to create a plan for decluttering your classroom. The questions posed on the CFC blog provide a good outline for my plan:

-What do you plan to do with your "stuff" that you no longer want?
I'll be sorting between keep, give away, and throw away/recycle. Keeps and throw aways are self-explanatory. For give aways, I'm going to put items I don't want, but other classrooms may be able to use, on our "free table" at school. The items that don't get taken from the table I'll bring to Goodwill.

-What are your rules for purging?
1. If it's broken or worn out, throw it away or recycle. Don't think I'll fix it later. I won't.
2. If it doesn't apply/is not appropriate for my current disability level, it's gone. If I switch disability levels sometime in the future (not something I anticipate anytime soon), I can get/create more stuff.
3. If I or my students have not used it within this school year or the last, it's gone.
4. If it actually belongs to the {physical therapy, speech, etc.} department, get it out of my room and back where it belongs.
5. Only keep one hard copy of printables. If I have a digital copy, consider not keeping a hard copy at all. The copy machine and printer are there for a reason!

-What have you gathered to make your decluttering task easier?
I downloaded Clutter Free Classroom's decluttering tags and got some clear bins for sorting. Other supplies I might need (cleaning supplies, note-taking stuff, trash bags, etc.) I already have and/or can get at school.

Head on over to the Clutter Free Classroom Project and share your own plan!

Also, I'm excited to be sharing my very first freebie! I've mentioned that our January unit is "Staying Healthy," and we've been talking about germs, being sick, nutrition, how to stay healthy, etc. Well, this is a math center activity that focuses on counting groups 1-12, using adorable germ clip art from Scrappin Doodles. Below is a photo of how I set it up for my kiddos:
And you can click on the link below to download the printable free from TPT:
Germs Clothespin Counting Activity

I'd love to know if you download and what you think!

Friday, January 13, 2012

this could be my version of "I Have a Dream"

Since I teach in a center-based special education school, my students do not regularly have contact with typically-developing peers, as they would if our classroom were housed in a regular elementary school. Our school has had a sister school partnership with an elementary school in the neighborhood for a few years now, and I've never had my students participate in the program, for various reasons - but mostly because I'm very sensitive about and resistant to anything that makes my kiddos out to be the "token special ed kids" or a charity case.

But, something made my principal ask me to head up the sister school program this year (the teacher who previously led it had taken a job in a different school). So, naturally, I needed to have my students participate this year. And after seeing how it all works (and changing a few things around), I'm now completely sold on the program! We partner with one classroom in particular at our sister school, and it just worked out that we have an equal number of general ed and special ed kids participating in the program this year, so everyone has their own personal buddy. We send letters and cards back and forth, and actually get to hang out in person at each other's schools every other month or so. We're trying to get it so we can Skype, too, though technological glitches and scheduling issues have prevented that thus far. My kiddos love the program, and talk about their friends from the other school quite a lot. They have truly been able to build relationships, which is awesome.

Yesterday was one of our meetup days. Our regular ed friends came to our school and swam in our pool with us. After swimming, each pair painted a ceiling tile together, which we'll place in our main hallway. I loved seeing the friends working together to create colorful, creative works of art to adorn our school! There was much discussion (verbal and non-verbal) of what should go on the tiles, and each kiddo took the open-ended project so seriously. I can't wait for the tiles to go up in our hallway (hopefully by next week). I'll have to take a photo when they're up.

These ladies chose to go with an all-pink theme. They put their initials in the middle of the heart when it was completed. We paired the students randomly at the beginning of the year, and these two were a perfect match - both girly-girls to the max!

These guys were creating a tornado on their tile.

I'd love to hear from any other teachers - regular or special ed - who may participate in any sort of similar partnership. I'm always looking for more ideas. And if anyone has questions about how we set up and run the program, too, I'd love to talk more about it.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Versatile Blogger Award and Currently!

I was so pleasantly surprised when I found out I received the Versatile Blogger Award! I feel so honored to be a part of this awesome community of teacher-bloggers, so a huge "Thank You!" to the lovely Rachel over at Ms. Rachel's Room. Go check her blog out!
The rules for the award go like this:

-Thank the person who gave you the award:

So, again, thank you to Rachel! This made my day :)

-Tell seven random things about yourself:

1. I have a bit of a coffee problem. I drink a lot of it. Only black, too. My kiddos know we can't start Morning Circle if Miss Kara doesn't have her coffee in hand!
2. I have two cats. Someday I want a dog.
3. I love the Chicago Cubs. They break my heart every year, but I love them. Go Cubbies!
4. I love Zooey Deschanel's new comedy, New Girl. She's adorably, awkwardly quirky. And she's a teacher!
5. I can't tell time on analog clocks very well. I missed that week in first grade due to the chicken pox, and since then it's never come automatically to me like it does to most people. I really have to think about it. God bless digital!
6. I've never had a cavity.
7. I hate talking on the phone.

-And then, give the award to some newly discovered blogs! Like Rachel, I'm giving the love to some fellow special educators. You can never have too much sped love! Go check these great blogs out:

Also, this is my first "Currently" linky party. Fun! Check it out over at Oh Boy 4th Grade.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

in which Target is dangerous

I had a gift card to Target, which is always a wonderful and dangerous thing. So that was definitely on my must-do schedule for yesterday.

Not far from Target is, however, the Dollar Tree. This is the best dollar store ever, in my opinion. Great for the bargain-hunting teacher (and everything really is a dollar, unlike some other "dollar" stores). My finds from yesterday included:

Two oval bins, which I'll use for our daily learning center materials, two packages of foam counting blocks, two clear storage containers for manipulatives, and some cute Valentines Day stickers, doilies, etc. that we'll use when we make Valentine cards for our buddies at our sister school.

And then there was Target. Of course, their Dollar Spot is a dangerous and beautiful place for a teacher:

Pack of three pencil cups for sorting/categorizing, 5 packages of food erasers, two crazy-cute clipboards, and a workbook of same/different - I have a few kiddos who need some major practice on this concept!

Of course, I am incapable of going to Target and only staying in the Dollar Spot. It's a problem, really. I've been thinking about getting a laminator for a while now - and I had a gift card. I think you know what happened next.

Got home with my shiny new Scotch Thermal Laminator (no, this is not an advertisement!) and promptly tried it out on some of the new materials I've been working on to include in our current "Staying Healthy" unit:

"Germs" and "Feeling Sick" patterning strips (adorable clip art from ScrappinDoodles)

Healthy/Unhealthy food sort, using the Target food erasers and pencil cups (pie and apple clip art from KPM Doodles; graphics for the Healthy Eating book I created to go with it are from Choose My Plate)

I love the laminator! It's super easy, fast, and I think I'm addicted to the thicker/sturdier result than you get with the standard school laminating machines. My kids won't immediately crunch the materials just because they happen to have high muscle tone or imperfect fine motor :) I can't wait for the kiddos to use these activities soon!

Friday, January 6, 2012

Clutter-Free Classroom week 1 challenge: before pictures

I'm participating in the Clutter-Free Classroom Project over at the Clutter-Free Classroom blog, and this week's challenge was to take "before" pictures of your classroom clutter. Ugh! Not a very fun way to start, but of course, a necessary and helpful step.

I'm kind of cringing about posting these photos to the internet, honestly. I've long known my classroom needs a bit of work in this department! In addition to my general lack of organization, Christmas break used to be my two weeks of rather intensive work in my classroom - cleaning, rearranging, planning, you name it - all you teachers know how great it is to have time in your classroom with no student or coworker obligations! Well, in the past couple years, my school district has strictly forbidden teachers to enter the buildings over Christmas break. We get strongly-worded emails about how if we attempt to enter a district building over break, we will trip alarms, security will get involved, and we will get fined. All in attempts to save money, of course, which I applaud, but there go the best two weeks of my organizational year (I teach through the summer, so I don't have a typical summer break to do the big classroom overhaul).

So, I took these photos the day we returned from break. My classroom had not quite recovered from the craziness of the last couple days of school. Not to mention a lot of my stuff had fallen from the walls - sticky tack does not like temperature changes at all (building heat is turned off during break and then blasted back on for the first day back).

But, enough with the excuses. On to the mess!

First, a classroom 360 of sorts - doesn't look so bad here...(I believe if you click on the photos you can see them bigger.)

My classroom from the door. I have a huge room, which is awesome. I need a lot of open space to accommodate my students in wheelchairs, as well as students with balance issues and vision impairments. Individual student desks/tables are clustered towards the center of the room to provide movement space on the outside.

Classroom from the back. The two doors at the front lead to the office area and kitchen (both shared with the classroom next door). Front and center is our word wall (most of the words fell off the wall over break). The rectangle tables serve as individual "desks" for my students in wheelchairs.

View from the windows. The round table is a small group work area. It's currently the only one we have; when we have multiple groups/centers going at once we push two of the rectangle wheelchair "desks" together, which is less than ideal. I need to utilize space more effectively (and beg, borrow and steal to get another group table).

And the view from the front. The three doors at the back are, L-R, side room used for whole group meetings, storage closet, and side room used for rest/free time/play. I love, love, love my side rooms. But need to use the free time one much more effectively.

Now for the problem areas...

This is that second side room. Toys to the left. Mats/beanbags/physical and sensory therapy stuff to the right. I hate this room. It's such a pit much of the time. When my students were younger they played in here a lot during free choice time. Now, they don't bother with most of the toys and I really don't know why I keep them (toys, not the students!) around. Major purging needs to happen. I'd like to keep the mat area mostly the same, but I envision the rest of the room being where I set up my new small group work area.

Reading/library area. I'm cringing! I have tons more books than this, and don't keep them out because I don't have a good system for organizing or displaying them. I just rotate them every so often (but not often enough). I'd love to get better bookshelves - I need something workable, height-wise, for both my students in wheelchairs and my walkers. Also, that rocking chair is old and gross and is going to fall apart one of these days (sooner rather than later). The kids love it, though, so if I get rid of it, something has to take its place!

Student work cupboard. The top becomes a catch-all of stuff my classroom staff and I use frequently but don't want the kids to be able to reach. This has to change, because it looks a hot mess! The inside of this cupboard is also a nightmare - it's where we store students' individual work boxes and other various and sundry fine motor and academic materials. I neglected to take a photo of the inside but it needs some work. The papers on the front of the cupboard are my students' monthly homework pages they turn in, and a class tally of the homework points they earn.

This is where things get really scary. This is my storage closet. It's awesome in that it's huge and has floor to ceiling shelves. It's pretty horrifying in the way it's (not at all) organized. Those boxes might give the impression of some organization, but I have no idea what's in most of them. They used to be organized by month, but not so much any more. I inherited the classroom I'm in now from a teacher who was retiring. She left ALL of her stuff behind - which, don't get me wrong, was an incredibly helpful gesture. was 30+ years of teaching stuff. I purged a bunch of unusables right away (think folders of those old purple Xeroxed worksheets I used as an elementary student in the 80s...broken physical therapy equipment and toys...etc.) but the rest I kind of just shuffled around and/or stuck in this closet and added my own stuff to the mix.
It doesn't help that there's a lot of large items in here - spare wheelchairs, a student's own adaptive bike from home that he keeps at school, large boxes of diapers for my three students who are incontinent, a popcorn machine (our class makes and sells popcorn every Friday). The big things have to stay and this is the best place for them. But a lot of the other stuff in this area can and should be purged. Or reorganized. Or sorted into some semblance of logical order.

Well. That was scary. I have my work cut out for me! But I think these photos will be good motivators to stick with this whole decluttering project. I'm looking forward to it!

Head on over to the linky party to see other teachers' clutter, or to share your own!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

My Go-To Book

Teaching in Room 6 is hosting a linky party about your go-to teaching book!

The book I want to talk about isn't necessarily a teaching resource per se, but it's a book that has, at the risk of sounding so cliched, changed my life - or at least, definitely changed how I think about and relate to the parents of my students.
My Baby Rides the Short Bus is an anthology of essays by parents of children with disabilities. It is perhaps the most honest thing I have ever read in my life. I laughed, cried, cringed and gasped through the entire book. I nodded when reading things I'm so familiar with, and then, was convicted by my own misunderstanding. In my experience teaching students who have severe impairments, the parents are often one of the most difficult aspects of the job - and I can't really describe how much this book did to re-shape my understanding of and respect for the parents of the kids I teach.

(A disclaimer: if you are familiar with and love the "Welcome to Holland" poem, this book is kind of for and by the anti-Holland crowd. And still - anyone who has students with disabilities in their class needs to read this book.)

Head on over to the linky party and share your own go-to book!

Monday, January 2, 2012

back to it! is back in session tomorrow! Why is it Christmas break never seems quite long enough? I always have grand plans to get so much done over break, and I never accomplish as much as I intend to. But, I just have to tell myself - a break is a break. And I did get some things done!

The kiddos are, as always, going to have a tough transition back to school after two weeks off. We'll spend the first week getting back into the school routine. Behavior and physical therapy progress are usually the slowest to be retained after break, so we'll focus on those areas most intensively.

In my school, we use the Unique Learning System curriculum (ULS), which is created specifically for students with moderate to severe cognitive impairments. Our January unit is "Staying Healthy," which is a great topic for the cold and flu-ridden winter! Tomorrow I'm going to ease into the unit by reading How Do Dinosaurs Get Well Soon?. In our learning center time, we'll also do a body parts dice graphing activity I created (below):
(The clip art images used in this activity are Symbol Stix, copyrighted to ULS.)

I like using dice graphing activities to intro a unit. My kiddos are familiar with the graphing, since we graph our answers to the Question of the Day every morning in our group circle time. In a classroom where the kids have such different ability levels, dice graphing allows me to hit skills they're all working on, so each kid has at least one IEP or curriculum goal covered by the same activity. Skills addressed - all of which at least one of my kiddos has an individual goal for, include:
-grasp and release (holding and rolling dice)
-following directions
-taking turns
-visual discrimination
-vocabulary review
-numeral recognition
-concepts of more, less, and same

I do love catch-all activities like this :)

I hope everyone who is also returning to school tomorrow has a smooth transition back!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

new year, new blog

Happy New Year!

One of my New Year's Resolutions is to begin a teaching blog. I've been stalking other teaching blogs for a while now, have gleaned some awesome information and ideas from many of them, and have become inspired to start my own.

I am a special education teacher in a center-based special education school. I teach a class of 9 to 14-year-olds who are classified as severely multiply impaired (SXI). This means my students have moderate to severe cognitive impairments (they function around the preschool/kindergarten level, cognitively/academically) and also have physical and/or other disabilities.

I'm at the tail end of my Christmas break, and planning on changing some things up in my classroom when we return from break! I'm looking forward to learning even more from other teacher bloggers, as well as sharing what we do in our classroom :)
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