Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Handy Dandy Tip

So I wanted to share this handy tip that I learned from one of the people in my office--one of the people I hope to be when I grow up (She joins the list with Taylor Swift and a few others.).
  • Do you have something that you copy a lot? Need a way to keep a master copy? Make a mark with yellow highlighter on your document. The mark will be visible to you but won't copy! Then you'll always know which one is the master!

Hope you can find this helpful!

Monday, September 28, 2009

Dayenu-A Yom Kippur Thought

Today is Yom Kippur, so I went to temple for services. The rabbi's sermon focused on the hebrew word, דַּיֵּנוּ or roughly transliterated, dayenu (pronounced die-ay-new). Roughly translated dayenu means "it would have been enough for us". We sing this song during Passover, when we celebrate the exodus from Egypt. In the song, we basically say that if God hadn't have performed all of the 15 miracles of the exodus, but only one or two of them, it would have been enough. The rabbi spoke about saying dayenu to wanting more things. Ok, fair enough.
Obviously this has to relate to the classroom in some way. (You can learn more about the song here.) I think it relates to some blogs I've been reading lately about children not being challenged enough in self contained classrooms. And although the rabbi told us to say dayenu for accepting more responsibility at work, I had to think, oy gevalt, I hope there aren't many other teachers around to hear this. I think that sometimes, we think, oh a student with autism can look me in the eye and answer questions the first time I ask them. Dayenu. But is it really good enough? Could we not teach the child to initiate conversation? Or we have the student working on listening quietly and sitting still in a large group setting. Dayenu. Or can we teach them how to interact with their peers appropriately? (I understand the aforementioned goal is at times a precursor to teaching interaction but just don't stop there.)
So the point to all this is push past dayenu with your students. Don't settle for good enough because you'll be surprised with what your students will give you.

Thursday, September 24, 2009


Yesterday was a really stressful day, due to personal issues, body aches, and some teachers perhaps moving further ahead of themselves regarding technology than they should have. But I'm not going to rehash those. One of the best things I did yesterday was make a cheat sheet for case managers to post on or near the computer to help the users remember short cuts or other key info. They weren't even mine to begin with--I just put them into a nice publisher doc and made them look cute and appealing. But I could carry that with me--and know that I helped a bunch of case managers and in turn, many many children and teachers.
So, what's the point of telling you this? Focus on the positive. We're three weeks (or more) into the school year. The honey moon is probably over and behaviors are starting to come out. But it's important to not get bogged down in all the problems and paperwork. One of the things I always used to say is that I have a lot of fun in my classroom because I get to celebrate all the small sucesses. (Celebrate does not always mean have a party--it can be high fives, a good note/phone call home or talking with my assistants, fyi) As a teacher of students with significant cognitive disabilities, we don't have to wait for test results to know that our students are progressing--we can see it every day!
So my thought, and my hope, for your Friday is that you look for the positives, for all the growth, for all the progress your children have made this week and this school year.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Good websites...

Sorry about the lack of posts lately, apparently sitting in front of computers and installing programs all day long doesn't make you want to use your home computer. Click, click, click all day long. But I am liking the new job, more on that another time. So, I thought today I would talk about some websites that I like for instructional materials for teaching students with significant cognitive disabilities.

Please note that this is simply my opinion, based on my experiences. I have not been paid or in any way compensated for my opinion.

One of my favorite websites was News-2-You. News-2-You is an adapted newspaper for individuals with disabilities. It covers current events, most of which are age appropriate for all school children. It comes with leveled text with varying amounts of picture support. It also comes with worksheets that support math, science, and social studies concepts. There are also some games online. I know they are also adding new stuff this year as well. News-2-You is a paid service.

Another one of my favorite websites is EdHelper. EdHelper is a great website for getting math worksheets for basic concepts like addition, subtraction, telling time, using a calendar. If you do spelling words, there are a lot of different ways to make worksheets. EdHelper also offers a theme and art projects section which is nice too. Some of EdHelper is free and some of it requires a paid subscription.

APlusMath is another great math worksheet website. I would use these for independent work mostly because you can control how many problems, how much space between the problems, what numbers should be in the problems. I especially liked this site for their counting money worksheets because it orders the coins from largest value to smallest value which helps a little with the count by 5's and then by 1's concept. APlusMath also has some free online math games as well as worksheets that can be completed and graded on line! This website is free!

AdaptedLearning is a Boardmaker sharing website. Its easily searchable and free! I <3 Boardmaker. 'Nuff said.

SMARTExchange is a place for users of SMARTBoards and SMARTNotebook to share files. There are also specific standards based lessons designed by educators for SMARTTechnologies for teachers to use. You can search by subject area and keyword. SMARTExchange is free!

Classroom Suite Activity Exchange is a place where people share their classroom suite activities. You search by keyword. There are a lot of different activities from errorless writing to science quizes. You do need an account but it is free. You also need a player or the classroom suite program to use the programs.

DLTK is a website made by a mother but she has a lot of great educational activities--alphabuddies, art projects, custom bingo maker, custom calendar maker, on line games, poetry, and the list continues. DLTK is a free website!

Hope this helps you find some great new things to do with your kids!

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Color Coding

A month or so ago, I joined a new gym. It's larger and nicer than the old one and it has lots of machines to lift weights with. Since my initial, free session with a personal trainer did not work out the way I thought it would (on so many levels), I didn't have anyone to show me how to use the machines. I, of course, said it's no big deal--I can read pictures. I am a Boardmaker fanatic after all. (I promise this relates to teaching.) So, I go around and find some machines I like and figure them out. But then I get to these two and I'm a bit puzzled. Here are their pictures.

This is a machine that works your leg muscles, the calves I believe.

This is a tricep press. I like this machine.

Have you figured out why I'm confused by these pictures? Here's a hint: it's about the red/green motif.

Red is your starting position and green is your ending position. I've always taught my kids to work from green (go) to red (stop). Maybe the company thought, a person should go (green) to this position. I don't know. Fortunately, I'd done the leg press before so I just did what I knew to do. When I got to the tricep press, I had someone to show me how to do it.

So what does all this have to do with teaching?
Color Coding. I have found this to be a very useful strategy in my classroom. There are many different ways to color code in a classroom. Let's talk about a few:

Red/Green: This is a basic strategy where all the work to be done should be in something green and once it is finished; it should be placed in something red. It’s a very basic and simple system to set up for your students to learn to work independently. If you wait until the winter holiday season you can find red and green Tupperware containers for fairly cheap prices.

Giving each child a color: I did this one year when I had four kids--therefore it was easy to do. I tried to give kids their favorite color but you don't have to. All their folders, spelling lists, journals, and notebooks were this color. (That's why you need to have a fairly small amount of kids--because orange is a great color but you don't want to spend your summer searching for an orange spiral, a brown notebook, or a yellow pencil box.) It is great for helping kids learn to be more independent and find their own materials because they learn to look for their color and do what is related to that color.

Color coding each subject: My whole elementary school actually did this to help our students learn better organization skills. Language arts was blue, math was yellow, social studies was purple, science was green, Spanish was orange, and the homework folder was red. This system was used school wide and helped the kids learn to organize themselves over the years. Our school had business partners who paid for all our students school supplies so it was easy to get the right color of folders for each year. If you are going to take this on--be very specific with your supply list and explain to your parents why they need to find these folders or be prepared to get the folders on your own. This might be helpful for older or higher functioning students who need to learn organizational skills or for students who switch classes. In high school, we had two days--orange and blue. On orange days, we had reading--so writing folders were orange, word work folders were orange. On blue days, we had math--so folders to hold math work were blue. We also had a class called Independent Living Skills, which I turned into Social Studies/Science/Social Skills and we would work on different areas and would use folders as necessary. I found that organizing by day really helped me and my assistants to be able to pull folders easily, plan for substitutes, and just keep up with everyday organization.

So, whichever system or combination of systems you use, the moral of the story is to be consistent. Once you teach your students something, it takes much longer to unteach them. (And be aware that other places/people in the world don't take color coding as seriously as you do--because no one wants to get injured because of poor color coding.)

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Working with others

One part of being a teacher of students with low incidence disabilities is working with others. Our classroom is not our kingdom--we have to share it with related service professionals, parents, peer buddies, and assistants.

I'd like to speak directly about my philosophy of working with assistants/paraprofessionals today. I can't imagine not working with another person in my classroom--it boggles my mind how other teachers do it. They have 20+ kids and just them. I have about 7-9 kids and at least one other person to help me. I've taught my low incidence students without an assistant before, and there was a huge difference. I've learned the value of a good assistant--they are irreplaceable. As a team, I can achieve so much more than if I were doing everything myself.

So here are my six main tenets of working with assistants:
  • Please and thank you will get you a long way. It costs you nothing to show your appreciation all year long by simply using these words!
  • Don't ask your assistants to do anything you wouldn't do yourself. I learned this one while I was student teaching, when the teacher said that she and I would go toilet the wheelchair bound student. I must have looked strangely at her and then she imparted the great truth upon me. Just because you have the title of teacher, it doesn't mean that you do things in your assistants' job descriptions. It goes a long way to show them that their work is essential and valuable to the classroom.
  • Every person who works in your classroom is valuable to should be treated as such. Ok, so this includes related service providers too, but just because someone lacks a formal education in education does not mean that they do not have valuable ideas and experiences from their life.
  • Every adult in the room is a teacher. Students know the heirarchy of a room and will try to get away with poor behavior because they think an assistant is "just an assistant". I expect that my assistants will back me up when I make decisions regarding behaviors and if they assign consequences or homework or what have you, I will back them up. I don't want my students to learn that they only need to behave for me. They need to learn how to perform for many different people, as they will have to do when they leave the academic setting. The only exception to this rule would be a safety issue--allergies, specific diets, etc.
  • Praise in public, repremand in private. Not that I'm going to "repremand" someone but if I have comments that are not positive about an assistant, I'm going to make sure to do it a)once the kids have left and b)in private. No one likes to be called out in front of their peers--it's just not cool--and in front of the students that they are supposed to be teaching--even worse. But if I need to talk to someone about how they are reacting to behaviors or keeping their cell phone off or away, I'm going to do it once the kids leave and in private. Unless of course there was a safety issue involved, then I'd have to handle the situation immediately, but there are ways of doing this without blaming a person.
  • Ultimately, I am the teacher and have the final say in academic and behavioral planning/decisions but I am not the only person who has observations and ideas. This sounds a little harsh, so let me explain. Yes, I will be the one held responsible for grading, IEPs, and dealing with parents but I am not the only one who works with the students in the classroom. I am only one person and see things one way. It is always helpful to have other sources of ideas, observations, and collaboration. (That's part of the reason why you are here, right?) Also, we all know that kids perform differently for different adults and ultimately, in the real world, it's not good enough.

This is my philosophy and I hope you can take some part of it with you as the new school year starts, because as High School Musical says, "we're all in this together..."