Thursday, November 17, 2011

Novel Studies

Every year we do novel studies in my classroom. We have read Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder, Hatchet by Gary Paulsen, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by Frank L. Baum, and Nim's Island and Fish whose authors I can't recall at the moment. Currently we are working our way  through Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. After reading this post on Maggie World, however, I think I have found our next book. Out of My Mind is the story of an eleven-year-old girls who finally finds a voice everyone can hear. Sounds just about perfect to me.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

A Unique Perspective

Hello All!
I know I've been very lax in posting on this blog. Life has been extremely busy and finding time to blog has been challenging. Kate (Ahern--Teaching Learners with Multiple Special Needs) posted on her Facebook that she was deleting blogs that hadn't posted in a year from her RSS. Got me to thinking I probably needed to update my blog, huh? HAHA Wouldn't want to be dropped from Kate's wonderful collection.  Then Kate posted about her class's use of Unique Learning Systems this year. I had been planning a similar post since we are also using it, but hers is so much better than my poor over-stressed and sleep deprived brain could devise. So go here and read what Kate wrote.

Now that you've done that, I completely echo Kate's statements. I appreciate how ULS has stepped up their game this year, especially for kids with more severe and complex disabilities. The online supports and activities are fantastic for most of my students and they are much more willing to participate in preassessment activities. I also like that the activities align directly with my kids' state assessments this year (primarily History/Government for my current group). I love that they have added a Level 1 checkpoint/assessment. My paras are excited about using both the online and print materials with the students. They can easily see definite progress and how to extend learning on their own, giving them needed ownership of the instruction. And the transition piece at all levels has fit in well with my cooperative's need to make major improvements in compliance in that area.

In addition to Kate's wishlist, I have a couple of my own:
  • Definitely would like more auditory supports for students with vision impairments (I have two with no functional vision but the profile still kicked them into assessment activities that require vision; neither of these students are able to use Braille so auditory content is very important for them).
  • I would really like to be able to analyze data from the checkpoints and skill assessments more closely. For instance, does the student consistently miss a certain type of question (quantity over 5, -ig family words, etc.)? Does the student have a history of "no response" rather than wrong answers? Does the student perform better at the start of the assessment or at the end? And so forth. The score at the end is nice, but I would really like to see what exactly we are measuring, which skills need more work, and where improvement has occurred.
  • I would also like to see more games and maybe a greater variety of games (card games, matching, physical activity, in addition to board games).
  • Out-of-the-box arts and crafts activities would be good too (in addition to the cooking and science activities Kate requested). It would be really neat to see a sub-study of sorts on a particular artist or art technique that went along with the theme.
  • Suggestions for community connections would be good.
  • I would also note that the majority of folks around my area who are using ULS are using it in categorical self-contained settings, not inclusion settings, so Kate's point about the math activities in particular, is very valid for us.
  • It would also be nice to see activities directly aligned with Bloom's Taxonomy and labeled as such. Even (or especially) "participatory/Level I" students should have opportunities to move past the Knowledge and Comprehension levels to demonstrate learning on all levels of Bloom's. They are very capable of "higher order skills" when given appropriate supports. (Hmmm...makes me think I should write a post soon on how we are using Bloom's in my program....)
All in all I am very pleased with Unique this year and am excited to be using it in my classroom. Hopefully the company will continue this trend of listening to the requests of their consumers and make even more improvements and advancements over time. If you haven't checked it out, or looked at it lately, you should.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Game On!

It's that time of year...almost at the end of the term, finished with all our units and not wanting to start anything new, with a few days left to fill up with fun, engaging, learning activities. Our class has resorted to playing opted to demonstrate our skills with games. We went on an outing to pick some new games since our current stock was getting a bit boring. Uno and Scene It will remain among our favorites but we have really enjoyed playing our new finds.

1. Apples to Apples, Jr.: This a great game for kids who are able to make some level of choice, even if it's random. I love the vocabulary development we can do with this game as well. It would be very easy to adapt the game with visual cues by creating and attaching matching pictures using the icon-making program of your choice to the red apple cards. Green apple cards could be a bit more challenging as they are more abstract concepts. However, this box is pretty well out-of-the-box ready for most players if they have partners.

2. Imaginiff: This is another game we have had a lot of fun with. In this one everyone answers a question like: "Imagine if Alicia were a zoo animal. What kind of zoo animal would she be?" There are choices and you throw out a number card that matches your choice. Those who won the vote get to move forward on the game board. This game incorporates both vocabulary development and math (more/less, numerals, counting) and is a lot of fun besides. And it's another one that is pretty well out-of-the-box ready for most players with partners if needed.

3. Whoonu: I love Cranium games and this one is as high quality as the rest. And it is one that ALL of my students can play, unlike the Cranium games that require sketching or sculpting or acting things out. This game is all about favorite things. One player is "it," also known as the Whoozit. Everyone else is dealt four cards and picks what they think the Whoozit's favorite thing will be from their cards. The Whoozit then reviews the choices and places them in order from least to most favorite. Points are scored with tokens. The best thing about this game, besides total involvement from everyone including my "random guessers" is that the game moves really fast.

4. Sort It Out!: This is another game I really like as teacher for its academic possibilities. Unfortunately my students weren't as thrilled with it the one time we played it, I think because it took too long and was dealing with concepts they know nothing about. In this game you are given a topic such as "Sort these things by length" then choices like "average female sea lion, anaconda, giant salamandar, yardstick, bootlace worm." You then arrange matching colored tiles in order and compare your answers to the answer card. This game holds lots of potential for my gang, but I think I need to 1. go through the cards to find things they understand;  2. modify questions to match up with familiar concepts; and 3. play with only 2-3 students at a time (we played with the whole class and had to wait way too long for everyone to make their choices so the kids kept losing interest).

If you have favorite board or card games, especially for age-neutral or for older students, please share in the comments. I would love to see what others are playing.

Note: Neither nor the publishers of this game endorsed this post. They most likely don't even know I exist. My opinions are simply that, opinions. Take 'em or leave 'em.

Friday, April 29, 2011

A Royally Good Time

Today we celebrated the Royal Wedding Day in style. Earlier in the week we read all about the wedding using the Royal Wedding edition of News-2-You. We started by catching up on all the news and watching videos of the celebration on the official royal wedding website. Then we found pictures of the wedding cake online and decorated our own wedding cupcakes to eat as dessert after lunch. Lunch was a variety of simple to make and eat appetizer-type snacks contributed by the staff as well as a baked potato bar. In the afternoon we had fun making bride puppets using wooden spoons and extra art supplies and then creating toilet paper veils for everyone to wear (yes, even the boys got into this :-) ). Fun times!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011


Thursday is usually our day to go out and about in the community. However, tomorrow, due to a bunch of unpreventable circumstances, we are stuck at school. And that's a real shame because it's supposed to be 80 degrees tomorrow and beautiful.

Because tomorrow is St. Patrick's Day we'll go Green instead. We'll have fun with the Great Green Food Taste Test, which incidentally fits right in with some state assessment items. And I know we'll listen to some good Celtic music on either Pandora or iTunes radio (awesome free resource if you haven't checked it out). Not sure what else we'll get accomplished as my kids are still struggling with adjusting to the time change. Who knows, we might all decide to go out for walk around our (very inaccessible) neighborhood to enjoy the spring weather.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Spa Day

Aaaaaahhhh! We have been pushing really hard to get through state assessments and were all ready for a bit of a break before the final push to the end. So we decided to have an impromput spa day in our room last Friday. Everyone had a BLAST and it was just what we needed to reenergize ourselves. Even the SLP had a good time, especially since I made communication boards for him to use (can't be all play around here; after all, we ARE a "Communicating Classroom") and of course it was perfectly set up for the PT.

We set up different stations around the room and had calming music playing all day:
  • Massage chair (vibrating mat attached to switch in a recliner; added mood lights and ipod)
  • Calming music with the Windows Media Player visualizer projected on the wall (this was a favorite of most of the kids); beanbags and other comfy chairs available for "meditation" time
  • We set up our Homedics foot spa in the same area (bliss!)
  • Manicures and pedicures were available (or hand and foot massages for those who didn't do nail polish)
  • Massage table with our Sparkle Flex lights (actuallly the mat table and the lights were on a switch for participation plus whoever was using this area could also see the visualizer projection)
  • We moved the swing temporarily to a new space (and liked it so much we actually ended up permanently rearranging that part of the room!) and added some mood lights to the area
  • The bathroom became a "beauty salon" where several of the kids (mainly the girls) opted for hair styles, facials, and make overs
A highly recommended activity that could be adapted for a variety of needs and purposes. This would be great as a peer activity too.

Monday, February 14, 2011


This is one of the toughest school years I've had in a long long long long time. It just doesn't STOP!! First we had a very very short summer school session (4 hours a day for 16 days in June), and while that is better than nothing it KILLED my kids. We were still in recovery mode into November and had just started moving forward again when Christmas break hit followed by crazy inconsistencies in the schedule due to weather, inservices, and days off. BLEGH! Then for some reason this year my para staff has been extremely unstable. We started off the year with 5 students, 3 paras and myself, and we needed a 4th para. My favorite para of all time left us in the spring but was able to come back in September. All is well, right? WRONG!  Here's the run down: I started the year minus Para A but Para B and Para C returned and we inherited Para D. We were still one para short. Then Para A returned in September (fully staffed at this point) and we added another student (oops, need another para). Para C left the first of October (make that 2). Hired Para E to replace Para C. Para D's deficiencies became very obvious at this point and I started gathering the plethora of information required to terminate a para in our agency. Still one para short here. Then Para C was able to return after Thanksgiving (yay! fully staffed!) and ended up resigning again almost before she (re)started (boo! so done with that!). During the process of terminating Para D, she decided to walk out and not return two weeks before break (yay! the stress level in the room went waaaaay down even being so short handed) leaving us again short 2 paras. Hired Para F to replace Para D with a January start date (now short 1 para). Meanwhile Para B had a family emergency that required her to take a 4+ week leave in mid-January and to have to work half days for a few weeks after that (back to being short 2 paras). And Para F is in nursing school so has class two afternoons a week. I am now in the process of hiring Para F to re-replace Para C, but she also has college classes so is only available the second half of the day most days (which, incidentally, is when we really need the help; plus she's in school for music therapy so how awesome is that?). Confused much?

We gained two new students this year, for the first time in almost 5 years. One was expected (moved up from elementary school) and one was a surprise ("we just had a family move in to our district and one of their kids is one of 'your' kids; they'll be there this afternoon to enroll and they don't have time to meet with you to discuss their very complex daughter and we don't have the IEP yet and they want her to start tomorrow"). WHAT?!?!?! This was the day after I had taken custody of our new three-month-old son and was planning to work half days for a couple of weeks while integrating him into our family, loving on our then-17-month-old daughter, and dealing with the very very needy three-year-old living with us at the time. I was only at school that day because ALL my IEPs were scheduled for September and I needed to do paperwork and my home computer was dead. So ended up waiting all day for the family to show, baby in tow. Thanks to a snafu from the sending district they didn't show for 3 more weeks. We DID get the intake meeting (yay) but I lost out on hiring a potentially awesome para who was also an LPN who could have handled all the (extensive) medical issues arising in my program (boo!).

The months of August and September were entirely blown with IEP meetings, court hearings (I had three, one of the paras had one for her child), numerous doctor appointments and other planned absences, and chronic short-staffedness. I don't think the kids noticed, however, as they were all still struggling with summer break recovery. I have had times before where I felt like we were barely treading water, but we were in full out drowning mode until December. And now we are into state assessment season, which requires more of my time to do paperwork than to work with students. And it seems the more paras I hire the more staff absences we have. UGH!! And I'm not even going to go into the nightmare dealing with the transportation departments of five different districts has been (I know you can't please all of the people all of the time, but COME ON! Give me a break already!). Or the extreme challenge of dealing with a difficult team member once a week who is constantly finding fault with something we do (or don't do). Certainly hasn't made it easier to fight my very strong desire to just stay home with my babies (oh, if only I could afford to do that and could bear to leave "my" kids at school and the program I've worked so hard to develop). To say I've been a bit unmotivated to be innovative and creative is putting it lightly. Thus the reason for no blogs since, what? June? July? I never really understood "burn out" before. And no, I don't think I'm suffering from that malady, but I can certainly see where it comes from. I've been doing this for 16 years, year-round, with almost no extensive breaks but I still love my job (mostly). God called me to this work and thus far I've had it fairly easy. He's putting me to the test right now and I just need to have the patience and fortitude to work it through (breathe in, breathe out).

It hasn't been entirely awful, though, and we have had quite a bit of fun along with the headaches. We did a literature study on Nim's Island which was very enjoyable and are now deep into learning about pirates while reading Fish (great book with lots and lots of potential for extensive lessons in all subject areas). We did another Mad Science party. We found some fun new paras to liven the place up. We had a penguin party. Several of the kids are succeeding with new communication systems (when they choose to talk to us anyway) and learning programs. We are excited to be getting expanded digs in the forseeable future (right now we feel rather like sardines and I'm slated to get two more students; they'd like for me to have them now but I just don't have space for them). Now that "grouchy para" has left we spend more time laughing than complaining/grousing/moping/being miserable. It's mid-February and while we've only touched the tip of the state assessment iceberg, that's also just a few weeks until spring break and shortly after that the end of regular school (I have no idea if we will even have summer school, how long it will be, or where, but we'll cross that bridge after we hurdle state assessments). We are excited to be doing a pirate party when we finish our current literature study. As far as state assessments, my high schoolers are almost to the point of NEVER HAVING TO TAKE THEM AGAIN! They will all have two to do next year then they are DONE DONE DONE!! So that work load will go down tremendously, just in time for all the changes I know 2014 will bring. My oldest student (homebound) is graduating this spring so we'll have some fun planning a celebration for him too.

I'm not going to promise to blog more. Life is just too overwhelming right now for me to make any more commitments. But I'll try to drop a line now and then. I hope some of you who used to follow me are still out there somewhere. Those rare comments really mean a lot (except for you spammers; you are just a bunch of bummers getting me all excited about someone liking my blog then turning out to be junk and can stay away!).