Blogging in the Classroom

I have admittedly put off writing this blog post because, to be honest, blogging intimidates me somewhat. As an adult I am often self-conscious of how my peers perceive my work, in this case, the blog post. I worried about perfecting the content and the form so much that I kept pushing this post to the back burner. How did I finally find the courage to write this? From my inspiring students of course!

 At about the same time I joined Down the Road, I began a blog for the students in my classroom. We use Kidblog, a free, secure blogging site geared towards classroom use. When we first started blogging I set aside a class period to introduce this new project. When I told the class the big news that we would have a classroom blog, responses varied from shouts of joy to “what’s a blog?” Once I explained that it would be a place for students to free-write, as well as to share details about school with friends and family, there was a collective excitement in the classroom. Kids couldn’t wait to get down to the computer lab to blog.

  My students started much the same way I did here on Down the Road, by writing an introduction post. Once everyone had the experience of creating their first post, I allowed more open-ended assignments. We do sometimes type posts as a class that are all related to the same content, for example blogging about an assignment we did in science or social studies. This allows for some great cross curricular opportunities; kids are re-reading content from our units and getting extra exposure to the big ideas without even realizing it! After children finish their own post, teachers encourage them to read their friends posts and write comments. When it comes to commenting on friends posts, students can type at their own pace, often allowing our language impaired students that extra processing time they need to formulate a thoughtful and appropriate question. It’s also less intimidating for some children to share their thoughts in typing as opposed to speaking in front of a group. Some of the children have fallen in love with blogging to the point that they have begun blogging at home! One of my favorite things is when a student comes into school on Monday morning with a big smile saying, “Ms. Parker did you see my blog post?”

 I’ve also found that some students crave this outlet of free expression. When I think about the opportunities students have throughout the day to express themselves freely, I realize how limited these opportunities can be. Students must raise their hands to speak during lessons, line up with “a zero voice” and wait until lunch or choice time to have unstructured conversations with their peers, often only to have these conversations cut short when it’s time to move on to the next activity. Blogging provides an outlet for students to write about anything they wish knowing someone will hear it.  Often parents or other family members post replies to their child’s post, but I always make sure to comment on every students post to ensure they know they are being heard. Some students don’t type much; they are thrilled to write maybe one or two sentences, however the idea that they have the ability to write anything is so exciting to them. The excitement my students showed towards blogging is what helped me finally write this post. Blogging really is a great outlet for adults and children alike!

End of Year Ideas

Keeping your sanity during the tornado of paperwork and checklists at the end of the school-year can be tough. Sometimes the time spent in the classroom can just slip away. It’s important to have designated times when you create something as a cohesive group. This can be anything from group parallel play to a project that requires costumes and collaboration. Depending on your group dynamic, that choice is yours. Do whatever they can handle, and it will be memorable.

Harlem Shake Videos:

Last year, the Harlem Shake was all the rage. Basketball teams, groups of friends, news crews, casts, and more were getting together to create their own Harlem Shake videos. We decided that, as a class, we would make costumes, and take turns being the one in costume. The kids absolutely loved it, and now they have a video to remember their time in our class. There are free apps that make it easy to create your own Harlem Shake video.

Bubble Party:

To celebrate ending the 6 days dedicated to the NYS ELA and MAth assessments, we decided to have a bubble party. Shockingly, the exams still require students to “bubble in” their answers throughout the tests.

Later on, we also made sure to get our co-workers a bottle of champagne to have them also celebrate the end of bubbling in names and codes.

Classroom Stories:

One idea is to have students create their own stories using the kids in class as their characters. The level of support given to this activity depends on your students’ age and needs. This activity will give each student a chance to be creative, while at the same time, creating something that will allow the child to always remember his classmates. If your students need more support, you can help the students generate ideas. If the child struggles with writing, you can type up most of the book, but leave some words that the child can write in themselves. On the back, you can include the picture of the “author” with a short blurb about the students, giving the story the look and feel of an actual book. You can then choose to combine the stories into one big book to send home or give copies of each child’s story to the students to bring home.

Time Capsule:

In the beginning of the year we had students fill out various items for a time capsule. Each student wrote their a few of their favorite things, such as their favorite book, food, school subject, and what they want to be when they grow up. We even took a picture for them to glue on the cover, traced their hand size, and wrote how tall they were. During the last week of school we complete the same activities again and compare the results! It’s so fun to see the growth of students over so many dimensions.

Video Clips:

My students love the opportunity to be on camera. Any activity is instantly more exciting once students find out the end result will be a video. I plan on brainstorming students’ ‘favorite thing from this year,’ together before writing some ideas down on a ‘script.’ Students can share their favorite memories on camera, then we will watch the videos together as a class. As an added bonus we will post the videos on our class blog for students to watch at home with their families.

 

This post was collaboratively written by Jess, Caitlin, Anthony, and Katherine.

 

Combining Cooking and Technology

This spring, Katherine and I have been running a combined technology and cooking club. We’ve taken the cooking club that teaches children to navigate a recipe and we added technology as a way for them to share what they’re learning.

It’s a pretty big group of kids to manage in the kitchen, so having assigned jobs is a necessity. The are seven students, and we’ve broken the club up into the following jobs: recipe reader, three recipe mixers, videographer, photographer, and two bloggers. As we rotate through the jobs each week, Katherine and I manage different aspects and pick up the eighth job, as needed.

The kids absolutely love being involved with all the aspects of the club. We have been using the KidBlog platform, which has been awesome. They are so proud to write about and publish their experiences. It’s amazing to find a way to inspire the writers and cooks within them.

My Five Favorite Apps for Kids So Far

Working with teachers to find appropriate apps has had its ups and downs this year. Teachers (myself included) first think to look for goal oriented apps. For example, sight word apps or math facts apps. Goal-oriented apps generally imitate flashcards or encourage impulsive answering. Neither of those is exciting or valuable in other settings. They also think of game apps as a separate category. My view of game apps is that they have a therapeutic value, but children are already play them at home for the most part. I’ve been on the hunt for something a little more challenging that teaches problem-solving skills—but is still engaging. Thinking of the greater brain processes has helped to find more meaningful apps. Amazingly, kids love these apps just as much, and they can be used independently.

Tynker

Although the web-based version has more free games, this app is great for teaching the basics of programming. Kids love this game and choose to play it during downtime when they are not given the choice to play a game like Angry Birds or Temple Run.

Click here For iPad version 

Logic Puzzles

Children get the same kind of satisfaction solving puzzles that adults do. This logic puzzle app helps children with logical thinking skills by challenging them to use limited evidence to solve a puzzle. This is a great team effort app as well.

Click here for Android version

Click here for iPad version

Tellagami

Tellagami has been great for helping students to express themselves in more meaningful ways. There are options for personalizing a character (gender, skin color, outfit, background, etc.) that says what the student decides. Once the character is created, the student can either speak the script or write the script for the character. I prefer this app over Talking Ben because it is more realistic and works on a variety of skills (expression, spelling, creation, etc.). It can be used for book reviews, blog posts, field trip recaps, etc.

Click here for Android version

Click here for iPad

Qrafter

This app is great for reading QR codes. There are a number of apps out there that do the same thing, but the layout on this one is nice. As much as I would love to do more advanced augmented reality, this technology is more reliable (at this point). Within the computer lab, students have created an interactive timeline with QR codes with the focus on computer history. Next plan is a school-wide timeline that stretches up the stairs.

Click here for iPad version

And of course a game that can be used for fun (and problem-solving):

Blokus

If you’re looking for a game to challenge students with their spatial problem-solving and planning, then this is a great option. The game is never the same twice and the rules are simple enough to learn.

Click here for iPad version

There is a vast selection of apps, and I’d love to hear the more meaningful and challenging apps you use in your classrooms.

Strategies for Working with Students with Speech and Language Impairments

Structure, structure, structure!

This point cannot be emphasized enough. Have a schedule and stick to it. There are so many unexpected moments and aspects to our day. Social interaction, emotions, and other moments cannot be planned or necessarily expected. To relieve some of these anxieties, it is so critical to provide an environment that is organized, predictable, and dependable. Seating arrangements (with visuals!), visual schedules, consistent routines that become ingrained for each child, and clear expectations help to provide this type of environment. Once these routines become completely innate for the group, you will have the space and time to push them even farther. It creates an opportunity to raise the bar and hold your group to these expectations, once you have built that structured foundation for them.

Follow through

This ties in with the last point.  It is critical to always follow through with anything you say whether it is a consequence or a promise. Building a trusting relationship with the children is one of the most important things a teacher can do. When a child sees you follow through, whether it is with a positive reinforcer or a less than desired consequence, that shows the child that you mean what you say and they can trust that. Establish this early and do your best to remember how important it is to give children many opportunities to trust in your words and actions. It also means that you have to carefully choose what you say and know that you will follow through with it.

Make a visual

Visuals can be so helpful for communicating expectations. There are many different kinds of visuals you can make.

Visual schedule – A visual schedule is grounding for children. Knowing the plan for the lesson or day can help lessen anxiety and increase awareness of his/her world.

Visual routine – This visual is important for complex tasks with multiple steps. For example, a morning routine may include unpacking multiple items, washing hands, and beginning morning work. Remembering the steps can sometimes be a challenge.

Visual routine with a storyline – Sometimes the visual routine isn’t enough. In this case, you can create a visual that follows a storyline.

Incentive visual – An incentive visual is similar to a star chart for reinforcing positive behavior. The difference is that the incentive chart is personalized with the child’s interest. There is no big prize at the end; children just want to know that you notice positive behaviors.

All visuals should be goal oriented and the goal needs to be as concrete as possible. Avoid vague goals like paying attention or doing your best. Define what that means and the child will be able to rise to the occasion. For example, instead of saying pay attention, you can write: X is working on having his/her eyes on the teacher and keeping his/her brain in the group (this is language from Michelle Garcia Winner’s Social Thinking Program).

Write it out

Spoken language is fleeting and often goes in one ear and out the other. If the child can decode, write or type what you’re trying to communicate. Reading the message will help regulate the child. It also makes the message more concrete. Even if the child cannot read, you can write it and speak it as you write it. Then, you can read it back to them.

Drawing a simple picture to convey a situation that just occurred can also be helpful in both regulating the child, as well as aiding the child’s understanding of that situation. Drawing the people involved in the situation and using thought bubbles, or speech bubbles, can help clarify the reasons why a person might have done or said something resulting in an undesired situation.

Validate feelings

All feelings are important and valid– how they are expressed should be your teaching point. We all experience a range of emotions. As adults,  most of us have learned socially acceptable ways of expressing those feelings. New teachers often react to the action rather than the emotion behind it. Start by validating the child’s feeling: I would feel mad if someone knocked down my building, too. Most of the time,  the child will relax a little because he or she will feel understood. The next step is to talk about how it’s OK to feel the emotion, but there are options for how we can show the emotion. At this point, you can create a list of ways to choose from. Be sure to choose a variety of desired and undesired reactions, and ask the child what they think is the best way to express their emotions.

Settle arguments with new ways of expressing

As a teacher, you’re bound to have kids in your class who have different language rules at home. Create your own that will unite the group. This can happen with strategies for the calendar.  For example, countdowns to important dates,  some people count today and some people count the day of the event. In my class, we counted by how many more wake-ups there would be. The common, concrete language unified the group and made the strategy for counting number of days consistent.

Give sentence starters instead of only asking a question

Children are often trying to formulate their language. If you provide an open ended question,  and you see the child is unsure how to formulate a response, you can give a lead in. “I am mad because…”

If something isn’t working, rethink it!

If there is repetition, something is not sticking with the child. Think of another way to help them concretize the support or message you’re delivering to them. A visual, validation, written language – whatever works best for the child. Not only will they be able to fully process the language, they will be able to accept and utilize the support you are offering.

Be Transparent

Always have a reason for what you do and invite children to question the reasons. Be ready to explain why you’re giving them a specific direction, completing an activity, or doing a lesson with them. Never just respond, “Because!” If you don’t have a reason, ask yourself why you are doing it. The “why” questions help keep us on our toes and remember how important each lesson is; make it meaningful, deep, and and worth their time.

Maintain calm

Sometimes it’s hard to take a step back from an emotionally charged situation, but teachers, it’s part of our job to remain calm in even the most tumultuous situations. There are times when I find myself on the verge of responding to a situation based on my emotions alone, and I need to remind myself to take a deep breath (or several!) before rationally reacting. It’s also important to model the types of strategies we use to calm ourselves down in a frustrating situation. In fact, sometimes I will explicitly tell my students, “That makes me feel frustrated, and when I’m frustrated I might say something I don’t mean. I’m going to take a few deep breaths to help me calm down.”

This blog post was collaboratively written by Jess, Caitlin, and Katherine

 

 

Meet Anthony

AnthonyLisiMy name is Anthony Lisi and I am so excited to be writing for this blog!  Since I was little, I knew that I wanted to work with children. When adults would ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would reply by saying that I wanted to be a “kid doctor”. I guess that is where I ended up in a sense because the end result is that I am helping children.

My path to teaching began by working with children at summer basketball camps in high school. I loved being able to instill my knowledge and love of the game into children that had just picked up a ball. As a junior in high school, I began to assist my friend’s father in coaching a 7th grade boys basketball team. At that point, I was hooked. I knew that I wanted to be a coach, and ultimately, a teacher.

While finishing up my undergraduate degree, I began work as a counselor at a morning and after school program in the area I grew up. The appeal to this program was that it was curriculum based; I was not just a “glorified babysitter” for three hours a day as is the case with most morning and after school programs. I was able to lead groups in math, science, technology, and cooking, amongst other subjects. While working at this program, I was also able to coach 8th grade and 7th grade basketball teams in two separate years. These two experiences fueled my passion for educating children and I knew that I wanted to devote my life to teaching.

Upon moving down to New York City last summer, I began work at The Parkside School as a shadow teacher. I worked in two classes last year to help manage behaviors and support both the teachers and the students within the classrooms. I had no idea what to expect, as this was my first true experience in special education. Once again however, I was absolutely hooked. I loved working with these students because of all the little “victories” that can be celebrated every single day.

Currently, I teach in a first grade self-contained classroom and I am loving the experience. I wake up excited and enthusiastic to come to work every day. In addition, I am enrolled in the Childhood Special Education program at Hunter College with a focus in behavior disorders.On Saturdays, I teach basketball to 3 and 4 year olds at the DRIBBL basketball program. Even though some days feel longer than others, I know that I have made the right career choice. I look forward to sharing any insights, stories, and opinions with all of you and I look forward to contributing to this blog!

Quotable Moments

“Wait, she’s a girl. Why does she have mister in her name?”

One of the great things about working with kids is that they will openly ask about what might confuse them or pique their curiosity. As adults, we tend to tuck that puzzlement away. As teachers, we are in awe of the children and how they  speak their minds honestly and ask questions without hesitation. We put together some of our favorites; we hope you enjoy.

Jess:

At school, I go by Ms. Durrett. I’ve been called Ms. D and Mr. E. When you say my name quickly, it comes out sounding more like Mr. Ett. Furrowed brows and tilted heads are common responses when children first hear my name. Countless times, I have taught the lesson about my name. I write out Mr. Ett and Ms. Durrett. We read each of them separately and then together. I explain my name is Ms. (pause) Durrett. Sometimes I think it might just be easier to go by Jess.

Caitlin:

My students consistently shock and amaze me with their honesty. Their naive and curious minds generate some interesting observations. “Ms. Mandy… are you sure you want to wear that shirt? It makes your belly fat,” was one of the first times a child made an unexpected comment about my physical appearance. How do you respond? You laugh and appreciate their ability to express themselves so honestly.

Not only do they share these hilarious thoughts, they pick up on any slight difference they may notice. A haircut, new bag, or shoes could take all of three seconds for a child to notice. I recently purchased a new set of eyeglasses. They’re a bit bigger than my last pair, but my students have seen me wear glasses throughout the year. The first day I wore them to work, one of my students entered the classroom to make sure all of his teachers were accounted for. As he scanned the room checking each of us off in his mind, his eyes met mine, and he exclaimed “WOAH! WEIRD, BIG GLASSES MS. MANDY!” This turned into a conversation in which he advised me to return these glasses, and continue wearing my “first pair.” Following this chat, he made sure to have every other child in our class “check out the weird glasses Ms. Mandy has on her face.”

 

Some favorite quote worthy moments:

During a lesson on parts of a book:

Teacher: It’s the spine of the book.

Student: Ahh… it’s a spider!

Questions you don’t know how to answer:

“What is your favorite tent?”

And then they can say some of the sweetest things:

“My teachers are my friends.”

A growing sense of the world:

“I eat pickles. It’s the only indian food I eat.”

“We lit that thing with the 8 candles. I think it’s called a Miranda.”

Body awareness:

“I can’t even stop farting.”

“How many times did you burp in your pants when you were a kid?”

“Uranus is disgusting.”

“No! Uranus is soooooo beautiful!”

“Look how floppy my legs are! … It’s like a raw yolk!”

Random moments:

“Your chapstick smells like a toucan. Wait, no… it smells like a venus fly trap.”

“I like saying Lesbian. Lesbian.”

“One time I was a bully back in Brooklyn…”

“If you could have one wish what would it be?” “To be a ball.”

“Are you doing that already? Are you smelling your armpits already?”


These moments make us smile and laugh and admire the wonderment and awe of a child’s world. They remind us why we teach and how valuable each moment is. There are a million quotes we haven’t recorded, but at least we have these few to remind us of the joy we get from the kids we spend our days educating. For all the teachers who are not yet writing quotes, do it now!