Thursday, August 27, 2009

Thought for Friday

This past Saturday, I was asked to give a presentation about behavior management, specifically for kids with autism. It was for a group of volunteers who work with kids with disabilities on increasing their swimming skills. It was an experience, for a variety of reasons, but there were also parents at the meeting to speak about what it's like to have a child with autism. One of the parents who spoke, who was also the vice president of the Northern Virginia Autism Society, said a quote that really stuck with me.
"You know, it's really about them {the kids}, not you."
I think this is a really important idea to keep in mind as we start the new school year. I think it can be interpreted in two ways.

1. It's a budget year. Let's face it--we're not getting raises, student to teacher ratios are increasing, and there's just not a lot of good news to go around. People are unhappy--not just because of work but also personal issues, perhaps. There just seems to be a lot of bad news to go around these days. Regardless, we are at school for the kids. We always have been, because, as we all know, teaching is not a job one goes into for the monetary rewards. So despite the administrator talking about what you don't/won't have this year--just remember what you do have and that we are here for the kids. They didn't cause this economic mess--it's not their fault. It's really about the kids.

2. The begining of the year can be quite stressful for kids. They have to learn new routines and procedures. They have more demands placed on them than they probably have in the last month or so. Their home routines become less flexible because they have to catch a bus or beat traffic to get to school. Students may be apt to show more behaviors at the beginning of the year when they are unsure of what to do or testing the boundaries with their new teacher. This happens in all kinds of classrooms--self contained or otherwise. This is, of course, a time when we must be strong teachers, put our collective foot down and insist that our students do their best with the tasks and demands placed before them. This may cause behaviors--but we have to remember--we are doing this for the kids. It's about improving a child's skills--whether they are academic, vocational, or life skills.

3. The last way I feel this applies is based on one of my thoughts from last year, when I had a student with autism who would melt down if he didn't get his way. Getting your way all the time is not what happens in the real world, so we couldn't let that happen. My general thought was: If I was planned (lesson-wise) and I used my strategies for handling behaviors consistantly, I had a good day. I had done my part of the bargain.

Sometimes, students did not have a good day--they did not like the academic or social demands I asked of them--but I did my part, therefore, I had a good day. One child out of seven was not going to bring me down. Students do not always have good days--no one always has good days.

I'm not going to say that every day was a good day, even with that outlook. There were some days that I was less than planned. There were some days when I did not use my strategies in the best way possible--but I'm a human and I will make mistakes. But having this mind set really helped me to cope and not take things personally, so I could look at behaviors objectively and then figure out other strategies, ideas, and steps necessary. It helped me to end each day and start the next one new--giving everyone a clean slate. This helped me--maybe it will help you!

I know these aren't the deepest and most profound of thoughts, but I do think they are worth hearing.

Happy Almost Back to School!

Monday, August 24, 2009

Edmark--Part IV

Interactive Edmark
Last year, I had the joy of a SMARTBoard in my classroom. So when BM came out with their Word Scramble Template, I was overjoyed! Here was a great way for my kids to practice spelling their Edmark Words with a visual! I got feedback that if I wanted I could use for state portfolios! I can vary the feedback given as well as whether or not the kids are going to see the word and copy it or if they are going to have to spell on their own! So, I put together a set of word scrambles for the 150 Edmark words of Level 1, in groups of ten.

Then, I had to figure out an easy way to allow my kids to access this because most likely they would be completing this activity with a paraprofessional. So, I decided to use Powerpoint. This is what I came up with:

My kids recognized their name so they would go to their column and pick a list to work on. Each student's lists were differentiated based on where they were on word acquisition. It was easy to add or remove a list as well.

Here's how I did it.

1. Open Powerpoint and start a new blank template. Pick a background/design if you wish.

2. I chose a slide layout of title and content.
3. I made a table big enough to hold one space for the student's name and one space to hold the lists.

4. I wrote in students names and the lists I wanted available to the student.

5. I highlighted List X and then used ctrl-K to make a hyperlink. I want to link to the file I downloaded to my desktop. So I used the top drop down menu to find my file and click on it.
6.Then I navigated to the correct word list since there are 15 folders in the first file.

7. I double clicked to open through the file until I found the main page file. I highlighted that and then clicked OK. Voila! My Powerpoint will now link to the main page of that list.
All I had to do was link the rest of the necessary lists and save the Powerpoint. On days that I wanted that to be an option, I would open the file, push F5 and my kids would go up and choose a list to work on.

If I had kids who didn't recognize their name, I might use their picture on the slide, instead of their name. I might also give them less options and have their picture simply link to the one list I wanted them to work on.

The only caution I have for you is that I haven't yet figured out a way to link from templates back to other programs--so you might have to make yourself available to switch the programs between users. Or better yet, teach your students or assistants how to!

I believe this is the last in my series of posts on Edmark. At least for now. Hope this will help to stave off the dreaded Edmark coma for the 2009-2010 school year!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Back to School

It's a bit of a strange feeling not going back to a classroom. I see everyone putting up plans for the new year and I have nothing. I've felt this way too when I was in Barnes and Nobles and realized I didn't need to buy anything for my classroom. It's very bittersweet. I'm very excited for my new job though.
So, this video was posted on another blog I read, Autisable, and it made me cry. It's good Friday inspiration. This video comes from 2008, so you might have already heard about this but it's new to me.

Happy Friday!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

My Other Job

I don't think I've mentioned this earlier but I also have a second job (and at times at a 3rd job but we'll get to that another day). I work with a group of adults (22+) with mental retardation and other developmental disabilities in a social club. I started as an interpreter (sign language) (again something we'll get to another day) and when I'm not interpreting, I'm just a regular staff member. Everyone is fairly high functioning--some members can go off on their own during activities and be back on time and some need or want an adult near to help just in case. There are some group members who do need a staff member with them because they can't handle their own money or because they would get lost but, as I said, most everyone is fairly high functioning.
The group does a lot of different events, such as
  • going to museums in and around the DC area
  • going to amusement parks
  • football watching party at a member's house
  • going to a winter holiday play/show
  • going to local fairs and festival (county, renaissance, farm type)
  • going on trips with the local park authority (We've done a walking tour of NYC and a railroad trip through WVa to see eagles.)
  • going to sporting events (mostly hockey...I always suggest basketball but I'm voted down)

Speaking of being voted down, the members also pick the activities the group does. We have a meeting once a quarter and members bring ideas of things to do, share them, and then we all vote on them. The group leaders are also allowed to contribute. There are also some group favorites/traditions, like Dave and Busters, the Corn Maize, Lunch and Bowling at Fuddruckers, Mini Golf and Summer Picnic, and Winter Holiday Shopping. We meet on Saturdays and typically go out for 4-8 hours at a time.

I've been with the group for 3 years now. I do have to say that there are times when I don't want to go or I don't want to get up that early but once I get there, I have so much fun. I really feel connected to the group members. Very rarely do I actually feel like I'm "working" once I get past the waking up early part. I enjoy being around successful adults--I love hearing about their jobs, their relationships and their other activities. We have adults who have gone to the State level for Special Olympics--that's pretty cool. People in the group range from age 50 something to 23, but we are probably a little more tilted toward 30 and up. We have recently gotten some younger members, which is awesome because now I'm not the youngest person in the group anymore! It's just a really cool group of people.

So, today was Mini Golf and Summer Picnic at a member's house. We had a really good time. The timing was almost perfect and the weather was not too horrible for mid August. We broke into small groups for mini golf and it was pretty fun but I realized it's quite hard to mini golf and interpret at the same time, so I just kept score. We stayed on the course for about an hour and half and everyone adapted the game to their own abilities. Some took the time to line up the shot and some just hit the ball however they felt. But what couldn't be missed was the fun everyone had. We had a group of guys who were cheering and just rocking out!

The picnic was pretty fun. The thing that really struck me and inspired me to write this post was how everyone had a good time and was so social. There are certainly little clicks in our group but not really to the point of exclusion--just people who are friends. But everyone had a good time, talked with people, played games, and ate some good food.

Coming home, I realize how much work must have gone in to getting all these people where they are today. I wonder what their teachers would think of them now! Most of them talk proudly about going to one of the two county career centers--which is an accomplishment, in my mind. Anyways, I guess the point of this post was also to remember that no matter what level you are teaching or what skills you are walking on, they are all important and meaningful and do make a difference in the future of your student. It's worth it. As someone who sees the end product, it's totally worth it! So as school begins again for the 2009-10 year, in this time of lay offs and cutbacks, know that what you are doing is important, meaningful, and worth it for your students!

Thursday, August 13, 2009


Homework is an important part of any child's educational program--whether they have special needs or not. (In my opinion, anyways.) It should provide practice for students on material they have already mastered--homework should never work on new skills or skill that have not been mastered--you want to be there to teach those. The only exception I can think of would be ADLs, such as washing clothes, some cooking skills, like those requiring a stove, or taking a shower--those that you may not have access to equipment in your school or cannot teach for safety or privacy reasons, but you, the student, and his caregivers have deemed to be important.

As an elementary school teacher, I had no qualms about giving homework. It was a very small school and all of the kids were aware of homework because we had a system of color coded folders (yellow for math, blue for language arts, green for science) and red for homework. So each day they would see their peers getting out their red folder and removing their homework.

Also, homework was written on those large charts that have spaces for each subject that was quite similar to their school provided agenda. In some classes, one of the first things a student was expected to do each morning was to copy down their homework. The other part of the agenda book was that a parent or responsible older sibling was to look over the book each day, read or make comments and sign the agenda to show that they were aware of the homework their student should have completed the previous night. My students participated in the homework routine in some way--either with a red homework folder or agenda and parent signing or both.

In high school, I thought about homework a bit more. My kids were rarely included with their general ed peers, the school provided agendas had only monthly calendars with small boxes to write homework down (even the general ed kids complained about the size) and it was a very different school from my elementary school. In the end, I stuck with my homework plan that I have generally followed since college:

  • I give homework every day except Friday. Everybody deserves a break!

  • Homework should be a skill that has been learned on that day (i.e. that day's new Edmark word) or a skill that is at the maintenance stage (i.e. counting money).

  • Homework should not take more than 15-30 minutes.

  • Homework should be attempted, however, if it is too frustrating or too hard (meaning the skill was not learned as well as I previously thought, not that the student is tired of homework), the caregiver should write a note to me on the homework stating that they tried the homework and encountered a problem.

  • Homework should go back and forth from school in the homework folder.

  • There will be consequences for not attempting homework. This was typically a loss of a break or choice time, doing homework during recess or a loss of a privilege.

I requested either a red or yellow folder for homework each year. I chose those colors (but accepted any color) because they are easy to find (in a messy room, in a hurry, and typically don't blend in to any decor!)/see.

I believe that our students with significant disabilities need homework for the following reasons:

  1. It's a part of school. Even on those teen/tween shows, the kids complain about homework.

  2. Homework teaches responsibility. Learning that they must be responsible for bringing something back and forth between home and school is a great precursor for adults who need to take their bus pass/metro card/work id/what have you back and forth between work and home each day.

  3. Homework teaches prioritizing. Some students have other activities or even TV shows they want to watch. Students learn that they need to get their homework done even though they have other things to do. This happens to all of us in real life.

  4. Homework helps reinforce and practice skills learned.

  5. Homework allows caregivers to plan for non school time--whether this is an after school schedule, weekend trips, toys/things to buy.

  6. Homework allows caregivers a way to bond with their students about school beyond behavior. When caregivers see their students showing off their skills, its a pretty cool moment. It's another chance for positive reinforcement for skills learned. It also gives them a peek into the classroom.

For the most part, I expected that homework should come back the next day. In return, I would check/correct and go over the homework immediately. (The only exception was in high school when we had a block schedule so we didn't have reading or math every day, then we would go over it at the next class period.)

Some examples of homework I have given in the past:

  • Edmark extra practice worksheets

  • Rereading guided reading books (rereading boosts comprehension)

  • Money worksheets from

  • Basic math fact worksheets

  • Teacher designed worksheets about concepts

  • Edmark Black and Purple Cards

  • Counting by 5's worksheets

  • Small sorting tasks that were easily containable

  • Extra worksheets from News-2-You

  • World News from News-2-You with a standard Who, What, Where, + 3 facts worksheet

Another great example of homework I have found is this one, made by Kimsmith, located at Adapted Learning.

I really like it for two reasons:

  1. It covers many vocational skills and these skills are just as important as the academics we teach at school.

  2. It gives the caregiver another helper in the house.

  3. It's easily customizable for each student.
Hopefully this helps you when you start to think about your homework policy this year!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Edmark Part III--The Folder

So I can't say that the initial idea that will be discussed in this post is mine. It comes the teacher who said to write down each word on an index card. I'm 98% sure she has a blog but I haven't found it, so please know that the orginal idea wasn't mine but the modification was.

So let's start with the visual. (I'm big on visuals as you might be able to tell by now.) This was done on a file folder.

So here is the basic premise of this folder. With an adult/peer buddy, the student places his first word card on the read section. The student then attempts to read the word. The adult can then praise or correct. Then the student places the card on the spell section. This could be done two ways--1)looking at the card to work on letter recognition or 2)with the card covered and the student attempts to spell the word, this helps work on letter sound associations. Again, the adult praises or corrects. Then on the other side of the folder, the student should write the word they have been reading and spelling once on a line. Or I suppose they could write it three times. You decide.

However, some of the kids that I wanted to use this for didn't have good fine motor skills and writing would take a fair amount of effort. So I modified it to look like this.

Again, same idea of doing it with an adult/peer buddy. I color coded it because I try to have the kids go from green to red. First, the student should attempt to read the word. Then the adult corrects or praises. Second, the student should attempt to spell the word. Same options as the other folder. Again, praise or correct. Third, the student should trace the word on the card. And then, because I like symmetry, I added a finished pile.

I did hear my one of my assistants having my kids say the word in a sentence before they are finished. I think I heard one of my assistants say, "This is getting too easy for you. Say it in a sentence." I had the best assistants! :D

So your red box could be, say it in a sentence/phrase/two word combination.

I really liked the folder because it was pretty self explanatory for subs and assistants. It was also great because I sent it home plus index cards with my graduating senior so he can practice if he/his parents want to.

Alright, well I'm done with Part III, more to come!

Friday, August 7, 2009

Edmark--Part II

Well, it's time to finish that post about avoiding the dreaded Edmark Coma. These resources are a bit more tech-y or take more time to prepare. These resources pertain to Edmark Level 1, despite the fact that the title is Edmark--Part II. ;)

BoardMaker + Edmark=Fabulousness!
There are lots of options for using Edmark and Boardmaker. Let's start with the Print Options.
  • Matching word and picture:
    Some options beyond paper and pencil: laminate the paper and use Wikisticks or Play Doh to match the word and picture, use overhead/erasable markers or crayons to match the word and picture, or even using water colors. Another great way to get more bang from your buck is to draw lines the first time and then have them cut the words and glue them next to the picture the second time!

  • Writing the word next to a picture:
    This is another fairly simple BM worksheet to make. Instead of making a second box with a word, use the line tool and draw a straight line for the word to be written on. Depending on your child's spelling abilities you might need to provide some supports in the form of a picture dictionary, a list of words known, using their Edmark cards, or an adult. For your students with fine motor difficulties who can't use pencils or for those who don't want to use pencils, consider using these alternatives: markers, magnetic letters, Lakeshore Learning's Lace-A-Word Beads, or letter stamps.
  • File Folder Games:
    You can use BM to make your own file folder games for you students. (This is an idea I got from another teacher as well.) You can customize them to your students needs but here is the basic idea. Start by creating a worksheet for your students to use. For our purposes, let's use match the word to the picture from the above post. Print out the worksheet and glue down the pictures only. Then you can laminate the folder and the remaining boxes with words. (Use the soft bendable lamination, not the hard kind ;). Now you are going to put down velcro. I try to use the "soft stays" rule (the soft side goes on the item that will do the holding and the rough side goes on the picture or item to be placed) for this. Put a small square of soft velcro next to each picture for the words to be placed on. On the other side of the folder, put down a large stripe of soft velcro for the word boxes to stay on when not in use. I usually put a stripe down the whole side of the folder for two reasons: 1) it's easier to quickly place the word boxes and mix them up on a large strip and 2) I always seemed to end up with a lot more soft than rough velcro. Then go ahead and cut out your word boxes and put a small square of rough velcro on each box. Your folder should look somewhat like this, where the gray areas represent velcro.

You'll probably want to have more than three words per folder; this graphic was for demonstration purposes. Another great thing about file folders is they are easy to send home for homework (as long as you trust your students to bring them back) and a great way for students to show off their knowledge to mom and dad. These are also great things to do with substitutes or peer buddies.

Here are some other, pre-made print resources that Mom2Mikey at has posted. She has made these on her own and they are great! They include picture word matching, word writing, tile activities, and multiple choice circle the word. You can find links to these activities here.
Alright friends out there in cyberspace, I think this post is long enough, so I guess we'll just have to look forward to more!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Teacher Discounts

As the new school year is just around the corner and Target, Office Depot, Walmart, etc have their school supplies out, let's talk about one of the perks of being a teacher--teacher discounts. You'll probably know most of these but hopefully you'll find a new one or two.

Organizational/General Supplies
  • Office Depot has WorkLife Rewards/Star Teacher Program for teachers and have a Saturday even for teachers sometime before the new school year with goodies and bags of stuff.
  • The Container Store has The Organized Teacher program. Sign up and you'll get a coupon good for 15% off purchases for your classroom, which can be used multiple times up until Sept. 7. (Because what teacher doesn't need more organizational supplies...)
  • Staples has the Teacher's Rewards program. They also have a Saturday event for teachers much like Office Depot's.
  • Jo-Ann's Fabric & Craft Store has a teacher discount program. Show your ID and they'll give you a 15% discount coupon. They'll also add you to their preferred customer list to get additional discounts and notifications of sales during the year. Fabric is great for covering bulletin boards. I used fabric in school colors to cover my cabinets full of miscellaneous items and it didn't matter whether the cabinets were organized or not--no one could see it!
  • Big Lots has the Buzz Club and when you sign up there is a box to check that you are a teacher and they will email you special discounts, prizes and give aways just for teachers! Just think of how you can fill your prize box!
  • AC Moore also has a teacher discount program. Show your ID at the store and sign up. You can't use your discount on line. Click on the link for more information--go to the Discounts section of the FAQ.


  • Barnes and Nobles has a teacher program. You can receive 20% off on purchases for yourself and your classroom. They are also giving out plastic cards now so you can use your discount online.
  • Borders has a teacher discount program. You can receive 20% off books and materials for the classroom. Show your ID and the cashier will give you the appropriate forms. Walden Books is an affiliate and has the teacher discount as well.


  • Anne Taylor Loft has a program called Loft Loves Teachers. They will send you endless coupons, notices, and reminders about sales.
  • New York and Company has a 15% discount for teachers. Show your id badge. They also have a 15% discount for AAA Members. I'm not sure if you can combine the two.


  • Apple has discounted prices for teachers for iPods, computers, and various 3rd party software. Just find your school and start shopping!
  • The Museum of Crime and Punishment in Washington, D.C. allows teachers and one guest complementary admission with ID. (Normally between $17-$20. You'll get emails but it's well worth it.) They are also having a teacher event this fall. They have designed curriculum to go with several themes.
  • Half Price Books in Texas and various other states has an educators discount. 10% off plus half price on books= great deals!

Varies by School System

Many school systems have employee incentives or discounts with a variety of service providers such as:

  • Cell phone companies
  • Apartment complexes
  • Movers
  • Health and fitness clubs
  • Computer Software
  • Insurance companies

My school system has a page about these employee incentives in the HR area of the website. Just take a look around!

Discounts I've Heard About But Can't Confirm Online

  • J Crew has a 15% discount for teachers. Just show your ID.
  • Books a Million has a 20% discount for teachers for whatever they want to buy. I would guess if you went to a store and showed your ID they would steer you the correct way.
  • Payless Shoe Store has a teacher discount, not sure how much.

I'm sure there are thousands more discounts out there for teachers that I've missed but they are out there--you just have to ask for them! Don't be afraid to ask for them--the worst they say is no and at best you just got a discount, especially in this economy.

One other quick tip, if you don't have your ID on you but you do have your insurance card that states that you work for XX School System, you can sometimes use that in lieu of your ID.

Happy Shopping!