All posts by caitmandy26

Teacher turned DJ?

One topic that continues to be one of the bigger questions that I have as a teacher is “how to motivate those most difficult to motivate?” I’m not one to jump to providing stickers and other seemingly meaningless “rewards,” so I have been trying some different, more internally motivating practices with my class this year. As with most things in my classroom, what works for some students doesn’t work for others. (Keep in mind the “others” fall under the more challenging to motivate group).

I’ve been looking for hints, starting more conversations, and looking out for any clue of what I could use as an additional behavior / motivation system for my kids.

One Friday afternoon, I had a light bulb moment. As I watched my students jump, dance, and belly laugh while enjoying a dance party accompanied by Kidz Bop radio, I realized I have a class of pop music loving children. They bond and converse about their favorite artists, top iTunes songs, and hum these, sometimes unfortunately, catchy pop songs.
Ding ding ding! Why not use this as a motivator? After some research and logistics, I have purchased an iPod shuffle for my class.

My next problem was developing a concrete, organized behavior system to go along with it. Here’s what I came up with:

goals for blog

Each child has an individual goal that they were a part in creating. Every day all of my students have the opportunity to earn one check towards that goal. The goals are completely differentiated and match exactly what that one child is working especially hard on right now.
At the end of the day I have a “check in” with each child. I let them know whether or not they earned a check for the day and then provide a specific and clear example of why they did or did not receive their check. This 30 second meeting has been meaningful, eye opening, and a safe place where that child and I can talk honestly about what they are working at becoming stronger with.
4 checks equate to the ability to request a song. In order to support their writing and reasoning skills, they must write their song request down. They include the song and artist as well as the reason why they want this song on the class iPod. Once teachers okay the lyrics and content, it will then be added to our iPod.
Now once they get 5 checks (one more than the requirement for a song request) they can earn iPod time in which they can listen to our class playlist.

ipod request for blog

So far this has been a great system. It feels great to completely differentiate their goals and have them work hard towards a fun reward.

Best of all the students who I typically am racking my brain over how to motivate are soaking this up. They are visibly working at their goal, seeking out teachers to help them achieve their goal, and eagerly engage in those end of the day check in conversations to see if they received a check.

And if it couldn’t get any better, my kids now help me stay on top of the coolest and most fun pop songs. Just another teacher perk. 🙂

Look for the silver lining.

Any job has its share of good days and bad days. Teaching has a spectrum of days ranging from feeling like you’ve changed a small part of the world in the most amazing fashion, to choking back tears until a free prep appears in your schedule. Luckily I can confidently say my good days infinitely outweigh my bad days. With that said, bad days can be difficult to digest. As teachers, we are so eager to make a plan, follow through with that plan, and assess the outcome. But when a bad day affects ones ability to see a plan through at all, my next thought is “what can I do to change this situation? How can I make it so that this situation is less likely to repeat itself?” When the answer doesn’t come so simply, set in an overwhelming feeling of stress.

Teaching is emotional, intense, and in many ways spontaneous. Unexpected emotions and behaviors pop up during our days. These moments take precedence over the academic plan for our children. If one of my kids isn’t emotionally or physically regulated and ready to learn – how can I expect them to attend, participate, and be an active member of the group? Even though I planned on reviewing yesterday’s content, introducing three new vocabulary words, and having independent work time, it is okay if that plan doesn’t see itself through. Their emotional, mental, and physical needs come first before I can hold them to such a standard.

With all of these thoughts, I also selfishly consider my own patience, sanity, and overall state of mind. What can I do when I’m starting to feel like I’m losing control, not being effective, or unable to spark my kids’ interests. Well, the teacher side of me thinks, obviously I need I reevaluate the situation. I need to think about my role as the teacher and how to set up my room so that all children can be successful. Do I need to incorporate more visuals, more movement, less verbal language, more time for transitions – the list goes on.

Then the human side of me thinks, take a breath, go grab a coffee with Jess, cry if you need to, and envision the glass of wine I will most certainly be having with dinner tonight.

Surprisingly the combination of teacher and human somehow balances out, gets me through the day, and leads me to prepare for a better tomorrow.

As I write this post reflecting on an emotionally taxing day, I am realizing that even putting these feelings into words is a helpful strategy. Whether it may be to a public forum, a text message to a friend, or only for my eyes to see, writing about tough days is a way to let it out of your system. Of course I still feel drained, stressed, and like I’m ready for bed at 6pm. But with that said, I am also prepared to begin tomorrow as a fresh start, learn from my mistakes, prepare my students for a great day, and prepare myself for those unexpected moments that often lead me to think “this really is the most incredible job,” even on the tough days.

Adapting a Chocolate Factory

“Can we have homework on Charlie and the Chocolate Factory?” – This sentence shaped the last 3 months of my reading group. One of my students, who can be difficult to engage, actually requested a story and homework to go with it! I said yes immediately, and so began the adaptation phase of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

Because this story is so incredible, yet very language heavy, I knew that it would require a lot of work, but that the outcome would be completely worth it. This is a magical story that can lend itself to so many goals I have for my group — inferencing, sequencing, predicting, vocabulary, making connections.

I’ll spare you the long and painful details of the hours I spent rewriting the text, taking pictures of the images on my phone, emailing the pictures to myself, copying and pasting into word, and rereading about a dozen times. Here’s a quick shot of what the final outcome looked like.

Sure it took a lot of time and effort, but adapting a story is a pretty interesting experience. I tried my best to capture the same magical and enticing storyline that Dahl provides, while making the language more accessible to my readers.

       

For students who benefit from specific language supports to best make connections to and understand a story, I was able to word the story around those adaptations. Let’s face it, parts of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory are a bit scary. Imagining enormous Augustus Gloop getting sucked up into a pipe makes me a little anxious! Let alone Violet turning into a gigantic blueberry. So instead of having my readers dive into these scary moments, I put a little language to it that they are familiar with. Instead of the characters disappearing into the factory, Mr. Wonka would say the following:

“You did not follow my directions! That makes me frustrated. You must now leave my factory.”

As silly as that sounds to anyone who has read Dahl’s version of the text, this type of safe language really let them open up to these characters who were making bad choices.

In addition to just adapting the text and adding familiar language, I tried to make the miraculous and magical aspects of Willy Wonka’s factory truly come alive for them, as best as I could. For instance, we read about the giant inventing machine that swirls amazing colors together to produce Everlasting Gobstopper’s. Since I couldn’t get my hands on one of those machines, we did a little experiment. We mixed milk, food coloring, and liquid soap and here is what we saw:

Before the dish soap was added:

After the dish soap was added:

So it’s not exactly the same magic that Roald Dahl created in his story, but it wasn’t too shabby for a group of four children and their teacher sitting in a tiny classroom. The “oohs” and “aahs” they produced while they watched the magic happen gave me goosebumps – oh the joys of a reading teacher!

Here are some other snapshots of what the “Charlie” section in the classroom looks like:

**Spoiler alert!** 🙂

   Sequence:

Characters:

      Settings:

Keeping track of who found a Golden Ticket and who had to leave the factory:      Noteworthy, goose-bumpy, reading teacher moments:

  •  The color experiment (try it out!)
  • Riding our own school’s elevator before doing a compare / contrast to the magic elevator
  • When Charlie found the last golden ticket. Before breaking down the language and the situation, all four students jumped up, danced, sang, high-fived, giggled, and celebrated. Amazingness!
  • Upon finishing a section of the book and hearing -”But I wanna keep going! Please don’t make me stop!!!”
  • Spontaneously using our Charlie vocabulary – “My hobby is feeding the ducks in Central Park! I am going to do that after school today with my babysitter!”
  • Watching my students dig through fake candy bars, and then seeing their reactions as they all pulled out golden tickets!
  • After lots of context clue practice, hearing one student say “I can be a vocabulary detective! I am going to figure out what this word really means!”

Special Education is Just Good Teaching

The words “Special Education is just good teaching” came to me on a chilly Tuesday evening in October. I was sitting in Developmental Variations 1, a class that I was required to take by Bank Street’s Special Education program. Until that moment, I wasn’t sure that this was the major for me. I knew that I would need and benefit from the experience of learning about special education and how to work with children with learning challenges, but I didn’t feel the pull and passion that I knew was necessary for a teacher in the same way I felt about general education.

My professor, Kate Ascetta, was in her late twenties. She had been working in special education since she was young. It was her pull and passion in life. Her personal experiences were what drove her to this profession. When she broke down just what special education was in it’s simplest terms, I got it. It was almost as if there was a click in my brain. She told us that “Special education is just good teaching.” It’s knowing your students, understanding your students, supporting and pushing your students. It’s finding an accessible point for a child to learn and running with it. Not wearing a superhero outfit and doing the impossible, just providing good teaching to children who need it. To do this, a person needs some sensitivity, creativity, and the ability to make a fool of one’s self in order to provide good teaching to children. I try to remember this as I do ridiculous dances, sing off-pitch songs, and make absurd monster faces alongside my students during lessons.

So how do I provide good teaching? I need not only to know them, but understand them. In working with students with different challenges, specifically in language, understanding their perspective and thoughts can be difficult. I always try to consider their point of view in a situation. The “whys” behind their actions. In stepping back and thinking of a bigger picture, I am much more likely to efficiently and appropriately support them and provide them with the good teaching that they deserve. Whether I know they love a certain basketball team, color, or song, it his so helpful to understand these pieces of my students to better teach them. I try to deliver “good teaching” in every single opportunity I am presented with. I truly believe that my students want to learn, they just need some support the best ways to learn.

With this in mind, I am reminded of two quotes that have stayed with me and influence the way I teach:

quote 1 quote 2

with these thoughts and my own understandings of myself and my students, I am constantly reminded that

Special Education is Just Good Teaching.