Tag Archives: third grade

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.

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.

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.

Classroom Management

by Bilal Kamoon
Photo credit: Bilal Kamoon

Classroom management sets bells ringing in most new educators’ minds. When the words spill off your tongue, your mind races to find out what that means– it means control without having control, order and emotions, productivity and creativity. How can you possibly create an environment that is managed and still find that individual flare? I can remember being so nervous about this when I first started teaching. My worry was that I wouldn’t be able to get them all to follow directions. Here’s a bit about what I’ve learned.

Creating a routine is one of the first steps to management. Predictability is helpful for children and adults alike. Once a routine is in place, there is more room for thinking about everything else. To get yourself (and your classroom) settled into a routine, first create a list of things that need to be done every day. For school, the list can include all of things you want to child to do independently each morning or afternoon; this can include items that need to go in and out of a backpack, independent work, etc. For home, this list can include snack, bathing, homework, brushing teeth, etc.

In the beginning, create a checklist or visual that reminds the child of the routine. Stick to your visual, and soon it will become automatic for the child (or your classroom). Motivation plays a key part in this– some children are capable of remembering the routine with the visual and some children need a little more support.

For more resistant children or a child with executive functioning or attention challenges, a more creative approach may be necessary to get those neurons firing. In the past, I have created story lines using children’s interests. Using the list of things they need to do, I’ve made a visual for them to do things like they’re more interested in. For example: freeing the tiger, getting the triceratops to the watering hole, or scoring a touchdown– all based on the child’s true interest to make the tasks more engaging and motivating (and you won’t need to repeat the same thing over and over again). Turning stressful times into a game or story has taken stress of both me and my students.

Laminating and using Velcro dots keep the visual intact and ready to use again and again. All visuals were made on Boardmaker.

Check out the visuals below:

Freeing the Tiger

The tiger moves from box to box until he or she is free from the zookeeper.

Screen shot 2013-04-14 at 11.09.26 AM

Getting the Triceratops to the watering hole

This visual has a triceratops that moves through each step of the routine until he or she gets to the watering hole.

Screen shot 2013-04-14 at 11.11.11 AM

Scoring a touchdown

This visual is great for the sports-interested child. He or she can move the player down the field to score a touchdown.

Screen shot 2013-04-14 at 11.10.23 AM

The child can also record when the tiger is caught by the zookeeper, when the triceratops goes to bed thirsty, or when the pass gets intercepted to squash the touchdown attempt. Keeping track can give the child a more enticing incentive, which leads to a feeling of accomplishment, a new sense of independence,  and increased confidence.

Meet Caitlin

pic for blog

I am writing this post with a full cup of coffee on my desk and butterflies in my stomach. As a first year teacher, my to-do list is ever growing. “Reflect and record” is always at the top of that list. Ironically, I never thought that would be on a public forum, such as a blog post. Although it’s scary, I must remind myself how important reflecting is in this profession. Throughout undergraduate and graduate school I always thought to myself I want to record my thoughts, reflections, and feelings on a weekly or even daily basis. The first year teaching holds many powerful moments, whether those be ups or downs.

Once I graduated high school, I had a plan. I would attend undergraduate school for a Bachelor’s in Childhood General Education at The College of Saint Rose, then venture off to graduate school for Special Education. The special education piece derived from advice versus passion. Professors reminded my classmates and I that teaching is a very competitive profession. Because of this, it is so important to find things to set yourself apart. Various professors recommended that my class gain some special education experience. “You’ll always encounter students with some special needs,” they would repeat. This was how I made my way to get my Master’s in Special Education at Bank Street College of Education.

As a first semester graduate student commuting into Manhattan two days a week for night class, I was overwhelmed and felt out of place. While the staff and students were kind and eager to collaborate, I didn’t feel like I was truly meant to be there. I was there based on advice given to me from my college professors. Special education wasn’t my passion… not yet. It wasn’t until a Tuesday evening in October that I was sitting in my Developmental Variations class that that spark of passion occurred. My professor, just a few years older than me, made a statement that transformed me as a teacher. “Special education is just good teaching.” I remember these words each day as I prepare lessons to support and engage my students. I know them so well, so why not add their special interests and strengths to my lessons? It excites them, which in turn excites me. After sitting through that class, I knew that my plan was going to be different than I thought a few months prior.

After completing my first year of my program, I was given a student teaching placement at the Parkside School in a third grade self-contained classroom. From the first day I entered the red doors of the school, my life has changed. I learned from the students as well as my mentor, Jess Durrett, endless lessons, strategies, and insights every day. This year, I am lucky and thankful to say that I still enter those same red doors and that very same classroom door. The difference is, this year I am one of the classroom teachers for an incredible group of children.  Our class is full of students with various language and learning needs. They are the most incredible and brave children. They face their difficulties, and showcase their curiosities, questions, and strengths everyday.

As I continue to venture down this path as a first year special educator, I am both eager and nervous as I join this forum with some amazing and brilliant teachers. I am so looking forward to reflecting, sharing, and learning as I continue down my ever changing and exciting path as a teacher.

Big Brother or Teacher?

For me, reading books side-by-side encourages some really interesting discoveries of connections and parallels– I’m sure it does for most readers. The last few books I’ve read for professional and personal reasons are 1984 by George Orwell, Far From the Tree by Andrew Solomon, and Why School? by Will Richardson. You might think that there isn’t much in common, but I’ve applied what I’ve read to my teaching… a little from each book, and it’s quite critical.

All three books discuss teaching the next generation. Solomon interviews families who have children with different identities than their parents (homosexuality, deafness, dwarfism, autism, schizophrenia, etc.). In his search for the answer about whether or not he should have children, he discovers families who have embraced their children’s differences and found communities to foster healthy growth, independence, and comfort in their identities. The communities are mostly centered around who the child is versus who the parents are (the way it should be, right?). This got me thinking about teaching. We are constantly listing out skills that all children must have or teaching from a list, and we won’t leave any child behind. Why aren’t we embracing their strengths– even those who aren’t exceptional?

In 1984, I found a similar theme– an organization designed to squash out the individuals and their independent thoughts (presented in a different light, of course). Isn’t that what we do when we try to teach every child the same thing? The other thing to reflect is how the Party disseminated all of the information– whoever controls the present, controls the past. When I think about my classroom and how I’ve been teaching, I know that everything has been filtered through me– scarily Orwellian. The plethora of information I digest comes out in a smaller portion for my class to understand, but after reading these books, I’m uneasy delivering information the way I so comfortably did before.

I do work hard to find factual information to present, yet was I really able to describe the horrors of slavery? I also presented it as the past– what about now? How do we get our fruits and vegetables to market? These are thoughts I’ve had, but there seems to be a piece missing if I’m not talking about the whole picture of human history from multiple perspectives. How can just one person do this?

This is where Will Richardson’s book played a part. The problem is how I present– Am I teaching in a way that leads my students to these questions or am I teaching in a way that only leads them to the questions I can answer? Considering what’s developmentally appropriate has a role, as well… Filtering and breaking down information into digestible chunks has primarily been done on a group basis. How can I open my students up to all of the information I can without scaring them? Do I teach more controversial topics as fact and open the exploration to less controversial or safe topics?

These are just some of the thoughts racing through my mind this morning. What are your thoughts?

Writing has been a particularly difficult subject to teach. For one, there is so much that goes into writing a single sentence: idea formulation, subject-verb agreement, word choice, spelling, grammar rules, letter formulation, etc. It’s something that we take for granted as adults. Working with children who have language difficulties or delayed motor skills adds another layer of challenge. Writing just isn’t concrete enough to teach. For my first few years, we used editing checklists that had the dreaded “add more details” box for children to check. This year, I did some thinking about that box… How could I break it down and make writing, and especially editing, more meaningful to the children I’m teaching? Here’s what I came up with, and it’s working out well this year.

First, I scrapped the idea of an alphabetical word wall. We have very limited space on the wall, and I wanted the wall to serve more than one purpose. Plus, alphabetizing and scanning alphabetic lists is becoming an obsolete skill (we use search boxes). Many of the children I work with have difficulty comprehending the words they can decode, so we use a program called Visualizing & Verbalizing for Language Comprehension and Thinking® by Nanci Bell. I took the visuals we use for reading comprehension (made on Boardmaker based on the V&V program’s structure words), and posted them on the wall.

Next, I taught the class the parts of speech, starting with nouns. They generated their own lists of words. Having the children create the list meant that the list would be way more meaningful to them. After color-coding, printing, and laminating them, we put them up on the wall. The children problem-solved which categories made the most sense, and for the most part, we followed their lead. This exercise was helpful for them to understand that language is not concrete– sometimes words can be in multiple categories. If you have a reason, then that works. In doing this activity, we also added categories (or structure words) that aren’t in the program (person who, feels like). I also saved myself a lot of time after school.

We played games using the word wall like Hangman and our modified version of Scattergories. The kids got to know the word wall and learned to sort words by parts of speech and by meaning. The next step was to take it to the writing process. Thinking that the wall was enough support, we just referred them to the wall to add more details. As you can imagine, the same troubling thing happened: they were stumped and needed support to verbally break it down to: add three color words or four feelings words.

So, I created a checklist that made the idea of adding details less abstract and therefore, more independent. Using Boardmaker, I made miniature versions of the visuals on the wall with check boxes for how many times it should appear in their writing. It’s easily differentiated for the whole class. You can also easily add punctuation reminders and capitalization reminders to a list like this.

The most productive writing has come of this, and teaching them the breakdown of editing in a meaningful way helps solidify the skills that great writers have. It also frees up time to have more productive consultations with them about their writing.