Saturday, March 30, 2013

A Shape Scavenger Hunt for ALL Students you've got this diverse group of learners, how do you meet all of their needs on one assignment without driving yourself batty?  That's my job!  I work with the general education teachers to figure out exactly how we get that accomplished.  (Now, I have to say that the general education teachers at my school are really exceptional in this area and it's very much a collaborative effort!)

So when we get back from spring break, the first grade team is starting a geometry unit focusing on 3-D shapes.  Some of my little ones remember 3-D shapes from kindergarten and some are still working on 2-D shapes.  We are planning a scavenger hunt looking for shapes around the room and here is what it looks like for my different learners.

Here is the typical assignment.  This is what we expect most of the class to complete independently.  We will have explicitly introduced these six shapes, given examples, and most students should be able to identify some of those shapes in their classroom environment.

Now I have a handful of students for whom that is just too easy.  They know the shapes already and through some independent reading of additional materials, they have been exposed to additional shapes that they are also able to find in the classroom.  This is the enriched version, with a very subtle change from the typical assignment.  Again, this is not meant to load on the work for us teachers nor is it meant to dramatically alter the curriculum for these students achieving above grade level.  It is just intended to allow for more open ended thinking.

This version, the accommodated version, is intended to reduce the load so that a student who sometimes becomes overwhelmed can be successful.  Our standards do not specifically state any 3-D shapes that students MUST know, so I selected the four easier shapes and created a simpler sheet.  This version will be used with students who are learning English vocabulary, students who become overwhelmed and frustrated with the quantity of work, and students who have identified learning disabilities.  It is extremely important to remember that when making accommodated work, the work must still meet grade level standards.
The last version that I have is the modified version, which is for my students with IEPs that designate that they are on a modified curriculum.  Through conversations with the IEP team (parents, teachers, administrators, service providers), we collectively decided to have these students work on concepts outside of the state standards.  Several of my students who meet this criteria are working on skills such as cutting and gluing so these skills have been incorporated into their assignment.  The student working on the modified version will cut and glue examples of the 2-D shapes onto their papers.  My students who receive modified are still actively participating in the scavenger hunt walking around the classroom and pointing out shapes excitedly to their friends.  Within that, they are working on appropriate vocabulary (square, rectangle, circle, triangle) and classroom skills (cutting, gluing).  For them, the activity has two purposes: first, it allows for meaningful collaboration between peers with different abilities and second, it allows for structured practice of the skills that are most meaningful to them.

This assignment is just the one I happened to be working on when I wrote this blog post - all of our assignments function in the same way as this one.  I plan to show many more examples in the future.  Let me know if there is a particular concept or idea you need help planning out in this way and I'll be glad to help you with it!

Want it for yourself?  It will be on sale ($1.00 only!) for the next week on my TpT site.

Thanks for reading!!


Friday, March 29, 2013

The Conversation that Never Ends

Honestly, I think I could talk about teaching and my students all day, every day, to anyone who will listen.  I spent yesterday flying across the country to visit my best friend in Massachusetts and sat next to a very sweet family with a first grader, a pre-K-er, and a toddler.  Of course I chatted up the kids learning about their favorite apps on Daddy's iPhone and the cool movies they were watching.  You can take a teacher out of a classroom, but s/he will always be a teacher.  As thankful as I am to be on vacation to recharge, I just cant see a little one and NOT talk to them.

And of course my best friend, a fellow first grade teacher, and I always talk about school when we are together.  I find it really interesting to compare our schools and get some ideas from the other side of the country.  We stayed up until long past midnight talking about our favorite Pins, education videos, etc. We went to bed only because both of our phones died and we couldn't share any more ideas.  Her favorites: Bill Nye videos, Envisions math, and a few cute youtube videos.  My favorites: Harry Kindergarten, Edmoto, and my new blogging world. We swapped tales of hilarious comments, lessons gone really well, and this changing climate with Common Core.

I am fully capable of having other conversations with people, but I definitely light up when I get to talk about my kids or my ideas for the classroom.  I don't think I'll ever run out of things to say about teaching my little ones!

Still talking...


Wednesday, March 27, 2013

My love of Pinterest!

I joined Pinterest one year ago. I held off out of fear that I would be as addicted to it as I had become to Facebook.  I was so glad to find out that Pinterest was not just going to suck hours of my life away into a screen, but rather connect me to other teachers, at home cooks, and help me to spruce up my home. Like all pinners, it would be a full time job to make/do/create everything I've pinned, but I have made any home renovations, baked some delicious goodies, and brought some great ideas to my little ones.  I can't get enough of Pinterest, the more I search around, the more inspired I am by teachers I've never met before.  I loved that teachers from all over the country were helping me to improve my practice and give me ideas for my little ones that I never would have thought of before.

Well........joining Pinterest led me to join Teachers Pay Teachers which led me to join Twitter which led me to join the blogging world.  I am so excited to join a new league of teachers who blog their fabulous ideas. I hope very much to bring some new ideas blending special education and general education. What are you most looking to learn in this area?

Thank you, Pinterest for opening the door for me to start connecting with some pretty stellar teachers. I'm looking forward to seeing what's next!


Tuesday, March 26, 2013

National Board Certification

Last winter I began the process of getting my National Board Certification.  Looking back, I couldn't be happier that I made that choice, but I'm also looking forward to submitting my portfolio entries!  For those of you who are considering the National Board process, I highly recommend it!  I have become better at defending why I do what I do for my students and I have learned so much from my wonderful cohort of fellow applicants.  I have one reflection and some editing left to do and then I will have to wait patiently until December to see how I've done.  In the meantime, I will be studying away for the big test that (combined with my portfolio scores) will determine if I can call myself a National Board Certified Teacher.  I will keep you all posted.

Are you interested in the National Board process?  Here are my words of wisdom:
1. Join a cohort!  This is not a solo process, you need to read the work of other candidates and you need to have other people read your work.  My cohort meets once a month and we have a facilitator who is a NBCT.  Although I really appreciate my whole cohort, I meet separately with the people working toward my same certificate at other times to continue the collaborative process.
2. Start early!  Four portfolio entries and a 3 hour test does not sound like something that would take 14 months to prepare, but trust has!  You can only use student work from the current school year in your submissions, but there is plenty to do before then!  Read and reread the directions, write Entry 4 (the only one not about student work), and get your test prep materials in order. You will be thankful later.
3. Have fun! Yes, it is a ton of writing.  Of course you have a million other things to do.  But the process has been so enjoyable that it makes the many hours spent in front of Microsoft Word feel worth it.

The ePortfolio system opens on April 1st!  I'm looking forward to sending off my hard work to be evaluated!

Are you a NBCT?  Are you thinking about starting the process?


Monday, March 25, 2013

The Words We Use

At my school, we put a large emphasis on the words that we use as helping us communicate a subtle message about our beliefs.  Since I'm a less-than-subtle person, I like to explain my word choice.

Person First Language.  This means that when we speak about individuals, they come first in our language.  Not their disability.  Not their illness.  Not the color of their skin.  Them.  Just like we wouldn't say "My cancerous neighbor..." at my school we also wouldn't say "My Down syndrome student..."  This is by no means something invented at my school, the "Person First Language" movement is a big one - you can read about it here:

If it doesn't matter, leave it out.  We also try to avoid mentioning a student's disability unless it is a necessary piece of information.  Stories about kids are oftentimes universally funny/inspiring/confusing and you may be left wondering..."was that one of her students with a disability?"  I will of course explain how and why I made certain tools for certain kids based on their needs, but you will also notice that my language always deemphasizes their disability and I just describe my little ones as individuals.

Teacher Lingo.  Yeah, I do that sometimes.  At my school (as in yours, too, I'm sure) there is school-specific lingo that we forget not everyone uses.  I will try my best to be as transparent as possible, but feel free to call me out if I said something unclear.  I want my blogs to be universally accessible!

So those are the words I choose to use (a little Dr. Seuss-y there, huh?).  What words do you choose to use?


Sunday, March 24, 2013

Entering the blogging world...

Hello blogging world!  I am so excited to enter into this fabulous community of educators sharing their ideas.  As the world of education moves toward students with all abilities working alongside each other in inclusive settings, I get very excited about sharing my ideas, tools, and suggestions for making classrooms warm, welcoming, challenging places for students with all abilities to grow and learn together.

How did I come to this?  I grew up with an amazing, creative, hardworking, inquisitive sister who happens to have a disability and spent her whole education learning alongside her typically developing peers. These relationships and peer models helped her become the woman she is today and it fuels my desire to create a similar experience for all of my students - those with and without disabilities.  I studied to become a general education teacher and then studied to become a special education teacher and I spend everyday trying to fuse the two into the best education possible for my diverse students.  I teach students with challenging behaviors, students who are gifted readers, students with limited verbal skills, and students learning English.

What will you see on my blog?  Why I believe this is such a valuable model of education. Tips and tools that make this kind of inclusion possible. Hilarious stories that only other teachers would ever believe. Answers to any questions that come up along the way.

Here's to a wonderful adventure together!