Tag Archives: writing

Keeping Organized

I’m the kind of organized person that has labeled boxes in my apartment for everything from dog supplies to checkbooks to stamps to matches. Everything has a place… and usually a color, too. My classroom was always well organized as well.

I’ve been exploring with the best ways to keep my digital life organized for myself and for the people I provide resources for. So far, I love Dropmark. It’s visual, easy to organize, quick to load, and there are different levels of privacy for each category. I’ve found it so helpful for the lessons I teach. All I need to do is send the link or link it to a QR code in order to share it with my groups.

I’ve also been collecting resources for teachers to begin to use in their classrooms and to start the flipped classroom model. The idea of the flipped classroom is to provide learning opportunities at home, too. Providing families with meaningful and safe resources for their children to explore at home will help children to see that screens can be used for more than games. It also means that the instruction in the classroom will be more rich with more knowledge about topics than a teacher could provide in a 30 minute lesson.

Here’s the beginning of my Dropmark. Check it out!

The Power of Relationships

As humans, most of us understand the importance of building relationships with each other. Reflect a minute on how much harder you work for the people close to you who understand and care about you– the people who appreciate and admire your strengths and recognize your weaknesses as areas to grow. As teachers, we spend time building relationships with coworkers and children in order to make the more challenging times in the day run a little smoother. Beyond the in-school relationships, there are the relationships with the families, which can sometimes feel like the last thing on your mind when you’re first teaching (until conferences, that is). Creating a relationship with what’s best for the child in mind is critical, especially in the field of special education; it opens you up to be a team with families to problem-solve what will work best for the child.

I can remember in graduate school when a professor explained that sending home positive notes about children is an important strategy for communication with families– to always start out on a positive note. I took this and made it a to-do for myself as a teacher. Reflecting about it in terms of the whole picture has led me to what I think is a better way of framing this strategy and advice:

As a teacher, you are a professional who works with the child and the family to help the child be more successful in the world. In order to make the most powerful impact, there needs to be a relationship with the family– not just a tally of triumphs and challenges communicated to the family. Both the positive and more challenging notes should be about who the child is– not just what the child did. Highlighting your understanding of the child is what will build your relationship with the family; it needs to be thoughtful and sincere.

The moments you live for when you teach– the triumphs– when feelings are expressed with words, concepts are understood, or a splash of independence comes out, those are the moments that families live for too. Being realistic and compassionate will give those moments the celebration they deserve.

 

On a connected note: Click here

 

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!”

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.

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.