Saturday, July 24, 2010

Planning for 2010

Tis the season. :-) For once I actually got a summer break since my cooperative cut our summer days and hours in half. I've enjoyed the "forced" vacation and have had a blast spending it with my daughter and our foster son. All good things must come to an end, however, and it's time to start thinking about organizing for the coming school year.

Things will be a bit different in my room this year. Four of my five school-based students will be at the high school level. That means we need to think about how high school will look different than middle school for them. Four of my seven total students will be taking state assessments this year. That means we need to maintain a strong focus on academics. Not to mention that we have access to three curricula: Equals for math, ALL for reading, and Unique/News-2-You for science and social studies. Since we spent the money to get them, we should probably use them, huh? haha Seriously, I'm looking forward to having the structure of curriculum to work with instead of constantly flying by the seat of my pants.

Last year community outings were pretty much limited to a grocery shopping trip once per week for a couple of kids, a group outing once per week, and one student who had community based jobs or other training every day. We had planned to go swimming every week as well, sending two students each time on an alternating schedule. For a variety of reasons that just didn't work last year but we are hoping for a better outcome this year. Outings happened rather randomly during the day, which made scheduling classroom activities challenging. This year I want to push the majority of outings to the afternoon, leaving the mornings for academics and other classroom activities. Students not going into the community will work on vocational, therapy, and other activities.

I will also be adjusting Morning Meeting to be a little more streamlined and with higher participation expectations from the students. I'm planning for each student to have a binder or other display where they can record answers to questions targeted to their individual needs. I haven't quite figured out how this will work yet but am aiming for Morning Meeting to take about 15 minutes to cover topics such as day, date, month, season, holidays plus one Question of the Day (we've been using an adapted version of the game Would You Rather...) or other voting opportunity so we can work with data.

Our day should look something like this:
7:30: early staff arrive and start set up
7:40: students arrive; put away belongings; choice of breakfast (for those who need it) or peer buddies (can choose hallway, gym, music videos, music); peers go to class a couple of minutes before 8:00
8:15: late staff arrive; bathroom/hygiene, reposition; "check in" activities (still working on)
8:30: Morning Meeting
8:45: Group instruction (Monday: Reading (novel study); Tuesday: Math (Equals); Wednesday: Science/Social Studies (Unique/News-2-You); Thursday (open; group community day); Friday: Game
9:15: Overlap time (in case we are running behind); bathroom, reposition; drinks, small snack
9:30: Rotations: students will have two 30 minute rotations per day for individual and/or small group programming. Monday: Math/Science-Social Studies; Tuesday: Reading/Science-Social Studies; Wednesday: Reading/Math; Thursday: sensory/leisure (for those not going into community); Friday: Make up work/SLP-PT
10:30: Break (leisure choices), positions, bathroom, lunch prep
11:00: Lunch (4 students prepare their own lunches, 1 is tube fed) and Leisure choices
12:00: Vocational and Daily Living Skills/Community outings (1-3 students per day except Thursday)
2:15: All groups return to school; bathroom, home prep
2:30: Departures begin; early staff leave; late staff prep for next day and do clean up

My oldest school-based student also has two morning commitments per week. He goes to the Skill Development Center one day per week to work on daily living and vocational skills he can't work on in our classroom. He also helps do some tasks for the classroom like binding books, laminating, etc. We are also looking for a volunteer opportunity for him in the community. In the past he has worked at the school library (helping to check in and shelve books, where he was very successful) and the local public library (they only allowed him to dust shelves; not a successful experience for him as he grew bored quickly); he also volunteered briefly at a local food pantry (where they only allowed him to pull empty hangers off of racks). I'm hoping either the public library in his home town (nearby) will let him do more or that we can find a food pantry that is open during the day at least one day per week that will let him do more. This student is capable of quite a lot and would be highly successful in any job with repetitive motor tasks like shelving books, filling bins, stocking shelves, fetching and carrying, etc.

That's it for now. I have a bunch of other plans floating through my head like starting a small classroom-based business (making decorative candles), Coffee Shop with some peers from another special education program in another district, Circle of Friends opportunities, and oh so many other things.

Friday, May 14, 2010


I received the Equals curriculum from AbleNet yesterday and have eagerly been going through it. It came in two huge boxes plus a giant tube. So far I'm impressed. They provide everything needed to implement the basics of the program including a step-by-step and an All-Turn-It spinner. There are a ton of manipulatives and they seem really high quality. They are the kinds of things I've seen at educational supply stores for the most part, although I've never seen the nifty hands-on/manipulative numberlines included in the package. There are lots of posters and other print materials. While I think I read somewhere (the website?) that the printed materials came laminated, these were only poster-quality paper and I will definitely be laminating everything, hopefully with 7-10 mm laminate to help them last as long as possible. I've only read through the Overview manual so far and it looks really good. I like how they've differentiated for all levels of students and all the helpful hints and suggestions for adapting for different needs and activities. The Action Dictionary is very comprehensive and will be great for my paras to refer to. I also liked how they found unique ways to use the manipulatives as well as multiple uses for the different items in the kit.

I haven't had time to read through the curriculum guides but am really hopeful that I will be just as pleased with them as I already am with everything else. It looks like they've even differentiated for low vision, or at least made it easy for me to do so. There is a CD which appears to contain a whole bunch more print materials (communication boards, Super Talker overlays, worksheets, etc.). There is a comprehensive assessment piece as well that again appears to accommodate a wide range of needs and abilities. The curriculum itself is even contained in one of those fancy boxes "real" curriculum comes in (basal readers, etc.; harkening back to my student teaching days). It truly looks like we finally have a curriculum for the severe/profound population that actually meets the needs of students with the most severe disabilities. YAY!

At this point I think my only suggestion for AbleNet would be to provide a la carte pricing for the items in the kit so replacements can easily be ordered. Over time posters will get worn or torn, work mats damaged, manipulatives lost, etc. It would be nice to be able to replace them as needed. And there might be programs that would like to order multiples of the manipulative kit to be able to spread the wealth between multiple classrooms.

I'm looking forward to implementing the program this fall. I'm having to hold myself back from starting it now. We only have three days of school left, after all, and one of those is a promotion celebration for three of my students who are moving from the middle school level to the high school level. I really don't have to push my kids that hard do I? They are all just glad that we finally finished the Hatchet unit. I'm sure I'll be writing more about our experiences with Equals as we add it to our daily activities.

Disclaimer: I am writing this review under my own volition. AbleNet has not provided me with any kind of remuneration or compensation for sharing my thoughts nor do I seek such. My desire is simply to share information about a program others who do what I do might find interesting.

Monday, March 22, 2010

I Have Not Dropped Off the Face of the Earth!!!

Truly I haven't. Between state assessments and new mommy-dom, life has been a wee bit busy for me lately and blogging has taken a bit of a back seat to all my other commitments. Rest assured we are still plugging away at our Hatchet unit and having a lot of fun with it too. We've just finished up Chapter 9. Thanks to several days off for a variety of reasons (snow, teacher days, holidays, illnesses), it has taken us awhile to get really moving on the book. We are about halfway done now and WILL finish by the end of the school year if it kills me. HAHA

Meanwhile we will be finishing up state assessments this week. Or at least the kids' part. YAY! I still have to do all the paperwork and compile the portfolios, however. BOO! On the plus side, one of my homebound students should be returning to school-based services in another week so that will free up one afternoon per week that I have been spending with her. WOO HOO! We've really missed having her at school.

And yes, you read right above. I am a new Mommy too. My husband and I are in the process of adopting a beautiful baby girl and she's been demanding quite a lot of my time lately. One year olds tend to do that. We are beyond excited and feel so blessed to have this precious little one in our lives.

So no promises from me for more frequent posts but I will try to do better about showing up periodically to share more about the Hatchet project as well as about our cool Summer Camp summer program plans.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Hatchet--the first three chapters

Well, we've managed to make it through the first three chapters of Hatchet. Since these are probably the three most boring chapters the kids' interest should increase (can you really call a plane crashing "boring?" HAHA). We've introduced a lot of vocabulary over the last couple of weeks and that has taken some extra time.

We just watched "My Side of the Mountain" which is a survival story similar to Hatchet. I think we'll watch it again when we've read further in our book and then do a comparison between the two. The kids really seemed to enjoy the movie so I'm sure they won't mind seeing it again. I'm also looking for a copy of "A Cry Into the Wild" which is based on Hatchet. Right now we're watching YouTube clips, when YouTube cooperates. And having the audio book available too is nice for additional reinforcement.

We also did an art project/modified writing project related to the first three chapters. The kids could choose if they wanted to tell about Brian flying the plane or the plane crash. They could choose a background (sky, forest, mountain, lake) and elements to put in their project. Then we gave them simple subject-verb-object choices to write a sentence about their project. The projects turned out pretty neat and every one is different. I'll post pictures when my camera is working again. For assistive tech we used battery operated scissors and a switch adapted hair dryer (to dry glue and paint faster) as well as Boardmaker pictures and/or communication devices for choices.

It also occurred to me that, quite by accident, the book ties into both our previous unit (Unique's October unit on Biomes/Ecosystems) and the Winter Olympics. I truly didn't plan it that way (but it doesn't hurt to let others think that does it? :-) ).