Tag Archives: teachers

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

 

 

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!

Image Libraries for Digital Citizenship Lessons

Working to integrate technology into classrooms has been so incredible. With the fifth grade group, I’m working on building general computer fluency skills as well as a deeper understanding of the integrity of their work. Through mini-lessons and research assignments, I’ve taught them how to legally find pictures that can be used for their projects.

Here are the image libraries I used:

Wikimedia Commons is great for finding photos to accompany written work.

Find Icons is a fun site with great icons for free.

Edupics is great for coloring pages for younger grades and images for lessons. I have also used this site as a visual dictionary.

Pics4learning is also great as an image dictionary and great for finding pictures for presentations.

Next time this group is in the computer lab, they’re going to find images related to the curriculum and related to their interests. They have demonstrated that they can easily find pictures on their own online, but they had no idea that there were laws surrounding pictures. This is such an important skill for them to have; I’m looking forward to seeing how they do with this project and how well they are able to generalize the idea.

What It Takes to Be A Teacher

When I tell people what I do and who I teach, they say, “Wow, you must have a lot of patience.” I nod and smile and say, “It’s understanding I have.” There’s an article I read in graduate school that has had an incredible influence on who I am as a teacher– I even remember the professor who assigned it. “Food for Thought. Patience or Understanding?” was written by Nancy Weber-Schwartz in 1987 with the conviction that good teachers aren’t patient, they understand the whole child.

I follow this, as is evident in a few of my previous posts– it’s my mantra as a teacher. Don’t get me wrong, I have felt frustrated working with children. When I do, I step back and reflect, sometimes catching eye contact with another adult in the room to indicate I need a minute away. In these times of frustration, finding different ways to approach the situation is imperative- I make a visual for the next time, chat with the student when he or she is not upset, or make an incentive plan based on the child’s goals. Knowing exactly what impacts a child’s ability to complete a task or follow a direction is key to providing the necessary support for the child to be successful. Providing the support is what makes a good teacher.

Good teachers who work with toddlers understand that they touch everything because they are curious and discovering their world, so they give them the tactile input they need. Good teachers who work with teenagers understand that their rebellion is something to be embraced, so they ignore the fact that they were late and instead give them a reason to be on time. Good teachers who work with children with special needs discover patterns of behavior, so they can preempt behaviors with necessary support. All of these good teachers have something in common; their work is centered around understanding the child.

Stemming from what can sometimes be crippling compassion and understanding, there’s a high level of dedication and follow-through that good teachers have. Sometimes this follow-through means dreaming about the classroom, not being able to sleep at night, working late and early hours, needing multiple venting sessions in a day, and needing someone else to tell them it’s time to take a break from school. If school schedules didn’t dictate vacations, teachers would rarely take the time for themselves. Most of the teachers I know drag themselves to work when they’re sick because they are overridden with guilt if they miss a day.

I think about the perspective required to understand teachers, and there are few outside the profession who have it. Unfortunately, the ones who really don’t understand are the ones making decisions in schools. Successful teachers aren’t measured the way they should be. Schools get graded based on text scores and test score improvements, not on actual growth of the children. What will it take for our system to recognize what we’re doing to both teachers and students?

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.

Reflection- Part 2

Writing has encouraged me to think deeply about my craft as a teacher. In addition, my break has given me more time to reflect on my way of working. Combining writing and time away has helped me to further reflect on my previous post I wrote about taking time for myself to both enjoy my work and avoid burnout. An extension of this reflection is the connection to a few articles, this one in particular, I read about a changing the presentation and delivery of professional development to engage more teachers on a meaningful level. Basically, no one looks forward to a lecture at the end of the day– no one wants to watch someone else click through a Powerpoint after a long day at school.

In this digital age, we have changed our way of learning. Most learning happens through our individual drive to learn (as it always has), but it looks different now. It has become more accessible from home, which results in less face-to-face interaction. Teachers seek on their own what they know they want to know. The problem is that teachers want (and need) to talk with other adults who share their interests and have similar experiences– it can be done online, but there’s value in being able to converse with colleagues in a physical setting. Being able to be fully honest in a place where confidentiality is not broken is important.

What can motivate teachers to want to have PD after school within the school community? There’s no question in my mind that teachers want to learn; that’s not the issue– it’s everything else on their plates– being stuck in the day-to-day, hour-to-hour, minute-to-minute and missing out on the bigger picture. It is only natural for many teachers to work like that, but there is a need for exposure to new ideas, bigger ideas, conversations, and reflection.

Here’s the test idea that we’ll try: a small group of teachers will meet regularly to continue a school-betterment project that was started by all the teachers earlier this year. This smaller focus group will continue work on the project, which will deepen our understanding of the flow of academic goals for children and will help create a more consistent reference for the curricular goals for reports, IEPs, conference notes, etc.

The project is intense and will require dedication, motivation, and energy. What’s going to be different is the presentation– we’ll have snacks, coffee, and even a little wine. So, instead of a forced collaboration with only goals and checklists, we’ll get together and work on the bigger ideas– our common interest fueling our learning in a more social and fun context. It seems like it will be more productive this way, and we’ll also feel better about it– not dreading the time we will spend on the project but looking forward to the time we spend on it. The sense of accomplishment at the end will hopefully also come with an interest in doing another project of the same magnitude. We’ll see!

Reflection

I work hard; it’s a strength of mine. Just like all strengths, it also can become a devastating and consuming weakness. This break has been really good for me so far. I’m happy to report that aside from the posts and a little reading, I’ve been doing a lot for myself. Everyday should be a time for reflection and resolutions, but this time of year puts those ideas in the foreground.

A dear colleague of mine sent me an article several weeks ago, and I just got around to reading it. It’s an article on Ed Week about an American teacher who moved to Finland and began teaching there (EdWeek is free to sign up for online). This teacher learned a lot about himself and the American way of teaching (being, really). Throughout the day in Finland, there are breaks for the kids- after every lesson. Not only do the children have breaks, the teachers do too. And the teachers use those breaks to rest and socialize instead of cramming more planning into every free minute.

It’s so American of me to work through my breaks and my lunches and my weekends. Reflecting on it makes me realize that there’s so much I’m missing in between– especially the rejuvenation and the love for life. It makes me think of my German friends and how they don’t work when they’re not at work; they keep their emails separate. My way of working will lead to burn-out; there’s no question. This idea, of course, is bigger than just me– but I can begin the change with me and maybe even at my school. A few more relaxed teachers will result in more relaxed and independent children. There needs to be more time for children to play and discover the world instead of having it all delivered in filtered, structured, and measurable lessons.

Despite all of the logic, I’m conflicted– what does that mean for accountability and how will that be measured? Finland consistently scores well beyond the United States, but that has only driven our system further from the mindset that helps children grow. Solutions? I suppose one step at a time.