Tag Archives: executive functioning

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

 

 

Response: Hackschooling: Is This the Future?

I read a post on Diane Ravitch’s blog called Hackschooling: Is This the Future? about a TEDtalk by a teenage boy about redefining schools.

He has a valid point. Learning comes from passion.

The whole picture is not just about making schools centered on individual interests without the training– there’s a fundamental point that he makes about the relationship of his teacher (or guide) to his work. He chooses the topic and someone teaches him how to explore it, question it, and master it. Logan clearly has teachers who work with him to learn the necessary skills to execute research, write about it, and then deliver an eloquent speech. Redefining does not mean taking teachers out of the equation; it means that the child’s passions are merely vehicles for teaching skills.

Differentiating with Technology

When I was growing up, my computer classes were focused on typing and how to use specific programs. As the Technology Coordinator this year, it’s my job to facilitate lessons using technology. My focus is not on the smaller skills like how to save a Word Document, but on the bigger picture: to use computers to extend learning. The skills are absolutely needed, but children learn those skills through use, not through direct instruction (just like language). Every time I’ve gone to PD on a computer program, I find that I already knew 90% of what was presented because I’ve played around with computers. The creative aspect of technology is the part that’s harder to learn and harder to teach.

So far, I’ve worked with two classes in the lab. Our focus has been research on a topic they’re learning in class. One group is a fifth grade group and the other is a second grade group. It is so easy to differentiate the instruction with they way I have it set up. Some children are writing based on their research, and some are having their learning recorded on video. They’re each having a chance to express what they’ve learned in a way that is just right for them.

Before getting to this point, I needed to work on infrastructure– some of which is constantly evolving. The students have a student login with a student email account that I facilitate. I write the students an email as my prep for the lesson. Each child opens the email with their name in the subject, and they have a detailed list of instructions for their assignment. I can find appropriate resources based on their reading levels. My time with the group is maximized because I don’t need to give group directions– children are motivated to understand how to use computers.

Next week, I’ll have headphones for each computer, and I’m going to install a text-to-speech program for the children who will need sources read to them. This will make finding resources so much easier, as I will need to find resources for the child’s listening comprehension level instead of their decoding and comprehension levels. Many more resources will be accessible to them.

It’s amazing to have children creating instead of just filling in blanks on worksheets. They are excited and more invested in their work. I have more to think about for K-1, but maybe we will be able to do something similar with videos instead of writing. I want to move beyond the mindset of repetition and rote learning.

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.

Math Project

In addition to my responsibilities as Technology Coordinator, I teach a reading and math group. Teaching reading has always been one of my strengths, but I haven’t felt the same way about math. What I love about math does not come in textbooks; it never did. What I really enjoy is making meaning of math and solving puzzles.

This year, I’ve made a shift in my teaching, but it’s been really challenging. I have a fourth grade math group. For the most part, the group needs support in problem-solving and application of the algorithms they’ve learned so well. To teach the group elapsed time, money, multiplication, addition, subtraction, decimals, and general planning skills, I’ve created a project to plan a vacation for a fictional family. I’ve created an outline for them, which takes the stress off of knowing where to start and what information to gather. We’ve used a calendar to decide when the family should travel and made decisions about where to travel and what mode of transportation to take based on the amount of time it takes to travel to the destination, which we researched online using flight calculators and Google Maps. Next steps will be researching the destination, selecting activities, and creating a presentation with bar graphs and schedules for the family.

The challenge here is that I know I am facilitating the learning of more meaningful math, yet I can’t as easily check the skills off a list of organized goals– it seems disorganized and random; some of the goals are literacy goals, executive functioning goals, and technology goals. There are times we spend the bulk of an instructional block problem-solving how to navigate the iPad or computer for research. These goals are life skills that are being taught in my math group, but it can feel like a waste of time when I consider my list of math goals– even though I know it’s not.

Is this perception a result of the standards being used to drive accountability? Have I been taking them too literally all these years? Is it the fault of the assessment structure?

Seeing the level of excitement, engagement, motivation, and understanding surrounding the higher-level thinking and language of the project is what reminds me that this is the way we should be teaching math. Working with children with speech and language impairments has really challenged the idea of teaching a skill and then teaching its application through a made up situation (at least for me). People don’t learn through rote memorization and meaningless context, but our math standards and available programs suggest that it’s the way we should teach.

Red and Green Moments

Teachers are expected to notice everything that’s going well as well as calm what isn’t going so well. In graduate school, I was presented with a ton of theory about behavior management or classroom management, but I never felt I truly understood how to achieve it before I became a full-time teacher.  I was warned about how easy it is to constantly correct and redirect students and how important reinforcing positive behaviors is. The idea behind positive reinforcement is so logical… but how do I do it without making myself crazy? Without providing a practical way to manage a classroom of different personalities, I was sent off into the world of being a teacher. The way it’s presented in graduate school is that if teachers constantly reinforce positive behavior, then they won’t feel frustrated, annoyed, confused, or have any kind of negative feeling– and if you do have those feelings, then you must not be doing it right. Trying to verbally praise every child for every positive moment is nearly impossible, unless that is your only duty. So, here’s my story of how I came to discover the idea of green and red moments in my classroom.

First, I had a card system with four levels (green, yellow, orange, red). Each level had a meaning, and each child started off with green each day. Green meant best behavior, yellow meant first warning, orange meant second warning, and red meant a phone call home or the principal’s office. We would try to remember to switch it back to green if the day got turned around– not surprisingly, that never really happened. What this system missed was the times between the hard times when children were kind to each other or made an effort to try something that might be particularly hard. Worst of all, the children became color-coded, the behaviors escalated, and there was no room to fully understand the child or the root of the behavior. Obviously, it needed to be tossed– it needed a replacement.

Using what I have learned from the wonderful children, speech pathologists, social workers, occupational therapists, and other professionals I have worked with, my co-teacher and I developed a green moments versus red moments system.

How we presented it:

In the beginning of the year, there was a lesson where we taught the children the definitions of red and green moments. A red moment is a negative thought about a peer or a negative behavior that might upset someone– all people think these thoughts all the time, but we don’t say them out loud. A green moment is something said or done that makes someone feel great. Once the categories were taught, students wrote down red moments and green moments. We walked around the classroom with the large red construction paper and had the children place their red moments inside. We folded it in half like a hamburger, and each child stapled the paper closed. We recognized that the thoughts are there, and they need to be talked about– just not to the whole group. We gave them options like quietly talking to a teacher or talking about their red moments during private social work or speech appointments. The green moments are, of course, out in the open and on display.

Red and Green Moments

How to maintain it:

This year, my co-teacher and I decided to add another layer… Now, the children have individual charts so they can visualize the green moments they dish out all the time. The classroom community is quite amazing and they love giving each other green moments.

Individual Green Moments Chart

I’ve gone through a few behavior systems in my years of teaching, and I feel I’ve found the best one yet. Even so, it gets tweaked a little each year. This is a simple solution to reinforcing positive behaviors in class and putting the power in the child’s hands. Each year, it has changed slightly to make it more concrete, more accessible, and more exciting for the children in the class. To be completely honest, it also makes my job so much easier– I hope that writing about this will be helpful to someone else!

What I told the conference group…

The session was meant to be an hour long, but we ended up discussing classroom management, behaviors in children, adaptive tools, ways to organize, and the importance of understanding children, for nearly two hours. It was an incredible conversation that came down to the fact that kids are people, we can’t expect them to be the same all the time, and we have to understand who they are. My co-teacher and I bounced off of each other when talking about the simple systems we have in place for the daunting idea of classroom management.

I felt like I told them so much, but I wanted to make sure they got the messages I was trying to deliver. As a follow-up, I sent out a Google Form to gather reflections and reactions to the time spent in the classroom. I left it to be anonymous, so they could really talk about how they experienced the time spent in the room.

Here are some of the responses:

What was the most interesting takeaway? 

classroom management materials all around the room!  it was great to see how you set up the classroom, explained strategies that worked, I’ve already used some in my second grade classroom and plan to implement many things in my kindergarten classroom next year as my first year head teaching (especially green and red moments)

Brainstorming ways that some behavioral tools and ot tools could be incorporated into any type of classroom or for certain students.

Does classroom management sound more or less intimidating now? Why?

less! still intimidating, but knowing that all teachers need to try out all different things, and that you are not alone in the process helps ease my mind a lot.

It sounds less intimidating because validating the feelings students have and giving them a time and space to express them really makes a difference. Witnessing differentiation for each student with universal design and language makes me realize how important not only class community is, but also how crucial the school community is; when the entire school follows the same procedures and language set there is an incredible difference.

What do you recommend we address next time?

I definitely think going through your classroom management tools, strategies for specific things, and materials used in the classroom would be helpful. i sometimes find myself worrying about not having the right tools, books, etc. and where to find them! thanks again!

Maybe select two specific case studies of students from the past who have a range of needs and address your classroom/teaching style benefited or didn’t benefit that specific case. Possibly include a list of goals they are working on and how you are helping them. What might their report home look like?

Having these reflections is so helpful to me. I also realized that the longer I teach, the easier it is to reflect. I’m looking forward to having more opportunities to talk to new teachers and continue to demystify behavior management.