Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Independent Writing Ideas

A few years ago the thought of having to teach writing to students with complex communication needs was overwhelming. I didn't know where to start and every curriculum out there was way too involved to support the basic needs of my students. However, after a few years of researching and testing out different things in my classroom I can now say writing is one of my favorite things to do with students. I see the most progress and it is easily implemented into my day. Keep reading to see how I am able to have all of my students participate in independent writing.

The first thing to know is that all of my students do independent writing every single day. We incorporate our writing routine into our emergent and conventional literacy blocks. You can read about those here and here.  The students in my class all have complex communication needs and use some form of AAC.

Word Wall
The word wall is a vital part of our independent writing routine. Students need to have access to an abundance of words. They need to be able to have a spot that they can look at to help them build sentences. Remember, the main focus here is that this is INDEPENDENT writing. We want to be able to develop skills in students that allow them to put words together to make functional and meaningful phrases. Also, keep in mind that your word wall doesn't have to be pretty. Kids don't care what it looks like. As long as they know it is a tool they can use make something that you are able to keep up with. This is what our word wall looks like. I took notecards to make the alphabet letters, attached them to the wall with push pins, print out our weekly focus words and glue them to construction paper (the colors have no significance, I just try and have different colors to show contrast) and then staple them to the wall. I use zero laminate and didn't use a ruler to put up and measure out where my letters would be. Oh and how about that title at the top. Yep, just computer paper and Sharpie :).

Encourage your students to come up with topics on their own. Remind them of their interests. Maybe make a chart of things for them to reference. I do this until my students sentences start to become repetitive. Meaning, I have students writing the same thing every day, I see mom. I like dad. Once we reach this point I assist students by giving them access to picture cards. **Reminder: I do this for ALL of my students. Even the ones who are not using a pencil independently. You could even keep a working anchor chart in the classroom and add new activities and exciting events you do throughout the month/year. This would be a great thing for students to pull ideas from. The big part about this is remembering that this is independent writing. So while we should be teaching students to write about a variety of topics we should not be telling them what to write. I simply state "What would you like to write about today?" I they say the same thing they always do I will say "I like that idea but you wrote about that yesterday, do you have anything else you would like to share?" If they say yes go with it, if they don't you could say "Here are some things that I like to write about, maybe you could pick something from my collection and write about it too." This still allows students to be selective with their topics but offers them support if needed. Here are the picture cards I use. I grabbed them from Lakeshore Learning.

Ways to Write
Another fun thing we incorporate are different ways to write. I have choices in the front of my room for students to pick from everyday. At the beginning of the year the students loved choosing different ones. I can say now they have all picked their favorite way and do it everyday. You could add more ideas but this is what I have in my classroom.

What Does It Look Like?
Some of these pieces were created with pencil, some are scribed (letters/words/phrases given in Proloquo, some are typed and some are a combination of both. I also encourage students to pair a drawing with their writing but it is not a requirement.




Keeping It Altogether
I give each of my students a writing notebook. They put their new piece of writing on the top each day. This allows them to see their progression and review previous writings they have done. The kids love looking back and rereading things. I take everything out and send it home at the marking period. Make sure to save a few to a digital portfolio or in a file so you can share at conferences or IEP time.

The Share
Every Friday I have the students select a piece of writing to share. They can pick any piece in their binder as long as they have not shared it before. I create a fun sharing space in the front of the room to make it special. The rest of the students sit in the audience and practice their listening skills. The kids come up one by one to share their piece. If they are able to read it orally they do. If they have a device we work on building the sentence during their sharing time. They are then able to show their picture. At the beginning of the year I have the adults make comments and/or ask questions about the writing piece (I may have to help the student respond). In the middle of the year I challenge the students not presenting to make a comment or ask a question about the writing piece. Then at the end we of course celebrate by clapping....but we have added excitement because each student has a hand clapper. I also record each individual share out and send it to their SeeSaw portfolio. You can read about how to use SeeSaw here.

I hope I was able to give you some ideas to include independent writing in your classroom. We devote 30 minutes to this each day. If you have any questions please leave a comment :). Good luck introducing this into your classroom.

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Monday, December 4, 2017

Conventional Literacy

If you have read about my emergent literacy approach and you are wondering what to do with students who are more conventional readers and writers keep reading to see how I implement it in my classroom.

I have to be honest, I actually have both emergent and conventional readers in my groups so my conventional readers still do some emergent stuff (they love it), which is okay! All of my students have complex communication needs and are learning to use AAC and Core Vocabulary. With this I am able to differentiate and model a ton during my lessons.

During reading instruction I use Unique Learning System (ULS) and pull some of my favorite highly engaging read alouds from my shelf. In my classroom I choose to use the same story M-F but you could change your story multiple times per week if you had the time. As mentioned before, reading instruction is a great time to model core vocabulary and AAC. When working with my conventional readers I follow the Anchor, Read, Apply model.

Before Reading: This is our ANCHOR activity. This is where I get the kids thinking about the topic/or strategy we are working on. For example, if I want the students to be able to sequence the events in a story we will do a simple sequencing activity. I would pull activities (maybe 3-4) from their daily schedule and have them put them in order. During this time I am making sure to use the vocabulary I am wanting them to learn. In this case it would be "sequence". So I would say "I like the way you are sequencing the things you do during the day" "I see that you have breakfast first, reading second and recess third" etc. This is a quick activity so I spend about 10-15 minutes on this. (My emergent students are working on self selected reading during this time).

During Reading: This is the READ part of the model. I have all of my students and we get cozy in our group reading area. All of the students have access to high and low tech AAC. I begin reading the story. Making sure to introduce it and spend time talking about the author, illustrator and making comments about the title/cover. I will also try to have the kids infer if appropriate. I use the CORE board during reading instruction and model using the the C.A.R method.

Keeping the conventional literacy students in mind I will be sure to reference our anchor activity new vocabulary. So again if we were working on sequencing and we were reading a story about giving a dog a bath I would say "First we find the dirty dog", "Next we...." etc.

After Reading: This is when we APPLY what we have learned. I will generally use the same activity from the Anchor but change the content to match our story. So if we were going to sequence how to clean a dog I would be sure to print out pictures and have the students sequence them. 

Due to the nature of my classroom it usually takes me 3-4 days to complete all of these activities.

During writing instruction we are working on a lot of different skills. We do small group and individually writing. This is where my conventional students still do the predictable chart, cut up sentences......and making the book as my emergent students do. They just get additional writing throughout the week. 

Word Wall: I introduce new words to add to our word wall weekly. At this time we are working on adding 5 new words a week. When selecting these words I pick 3 core words and then 2 words with common rimes (in this picture I chose 2 core words and 1 color word...there can be exceptions :)). When selecting the rimes I use this chart. 
Instead of teaching the rime I add an onset and make that the word the students use (you will see how the rime comes into play later). So in the instance of the words below I chose the rime "ore" and "eat". I use the word more often (and it is a core word) so that is the word I chose to represent the rime "ore". For "eat" I just went with eat lol!
I print out the words and then paste them onto colored paper. The colors do not match the AAC coloring system. In fact I vary them as much as possible. The point of the colored background is so that students can see the contrast. They are easily able to see "tall" and "short" letters. I also make sure that if I have a word that starts with an I and the previous word on the word wall under I is green, I will not use a green background. 
The words are introduced and then we spend time putting them on the word wall. We talk about the first letter. Where it should go on the word wall. We talk about the background color and how we can see the tall, short and letters in the basement. We talk about how we know other words that sound the same (rimes). 

Word Sorts: We do this once a week. Students use our weekly "rimes" to make new words. We start with Visual sorts. I show students the 2 words from our word wall. We read them, talk about them and say them out loud. I then put them in 2 different columns. I then give students post it notes with new words that use our rimes. Students then sort the words into the 2 columns by looking at the words (visual sort). Here is an example:
After the visual sort we move onto auditory sorts. I take all of the post it notes and start the 2 columns again. This time instead of giving the student the post it notes I read them and ask the students where we should put them (auditory sort).

Last we do a spelling sort. This includes the auditory component but takes it one step further. I tell students to use the words we already know (not and same in this case) and make the new words they hear. I usually give each student their own dry erase board, or they just write on our table. If kids are stuck remind them to use the words they already know. Keep referencing those words and where they are on the word wall.

Compare and Contrast: This is a great activity because it makes students really think. They have to use our big tool, the word wall, and make new words. This is so much fun because it shows that kids that our little word wall is full of so many possibilities. 
I pick 4 words from the word wall and put them at the top of the board. I then write out sentences leaving one word out. The words that are missing can be filled in by using one of our given words as support. For example, in the first sentence I would say "I want to play the ....." "I wonder what could go there, I am going to read our words, think, same, not, make" "Hmm..I want to play the "Oh Game!". I am going to use the word same to help me spell the word game." This activity allows kids to see that they can spell words on their own. They don't need an adult to help them with every word. This activity allows students access to our word wall and shows them how to use this tool.

Spelling: For this activity I pick a few letters, usually only one vowel, and challenge students to make as many words as they can. 
I give them hints along the way. Looking at the above picture on the right I would say something like this. I am thinking of a word that only has 1 letter. It may start this sentence ___ like cookies. (They write it down. Can you add a letter after the letter I to make a new word? Can you change that letter again to make another? Again? Can you add a letter to the beginning to make the 2 letter word a 3 letter word? Can you change the first letter again? Try changing the last letter. Do you think you can make any more words?

Independent Writing: This is done everyday. I have the students start by picking a way they would like to write. These are the options I have in my classroom but you could add whatever you would like. These are velcro'd to the wall.

Once kids select how they are going to write they must select a topic. This is very difficult for my students so I try and give them some ideas (things they may have done over the weekend, what we are reading about, their family/friends etc.). When the topic is selected I let them go. It is very easy to jump in and help the students but this is all about independent writing. Have them produce the writing they want and then go back and help them if needed. Do not correct and fix every move they make. If you struggle with this (it's ok to admit this) go work with your emergent students at this time. Here are some examples of my students work. After they finish with their piece they hole punch it, add their name/date and put it in their binder. I add the most recent work on top.


Scribe: The student found these words on their communication device. Instead of the message erasing the para wrote them down on paper. She also made a note on the back to let me know how the student came up with these words.
Keyboard/Typing: If you can't tell this says "Purple jeep beep beep." This is 100% student work. Sure things are spelled incorrectly and there isn't punctuation but this is 100% this students work. It is 100% their own and shows exactly what this student is able to do. 
 Markers: While it may be hard for you to see this is a writing piece about a shark. I know this because the student brought a shark book to their writing station. They grabbed a blue marker and said swim. Grabbed the orange marker and said eat. etc. I added notes to the back of this to reference.

So, I hope you were able to add a few more activities to your mix. If you have any questions about Emergent or Conventional literacy I would love to chat. Feel free to leave a comment or email me.

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Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Phonics Activities

Being a special education teacher means you probably teach multiple grade levels, have students for multiple years and teach multiple academic levels. The last thing we want is for a student to be doing the same activities from K-3 grade because they are in our classroom all 4 years. So it is very important for us to a have a large bank of activities to pull from to keep students engaged. Today I am sharing with you some of the ways I teach phonics in my classroom. This isn't everything I do but these are some fun and simple ways to change it up!

This is one of our favorite activities. I write words, letters, diagraphs etc. on note cards, attach a paper clip and use our magnetic "fishing pole" wands to retrieve words. I scatter the note cards around the room and then tell the kids to go and get them. This is where the differentiation can come into play. For some students I may say, go find 2 words that start with s. For another I might say, go find 4 words. Another group might be go and fish for a word that sounds like "not". The kids will then go and fish for them, bring them back to our meeting space and we will talk about the words they found. Depending on time and the number of words we have left around the classroom I send them out again. (You can find the wands on Amazon or at Lakeshore Learning).

For this you will need a fly swatter and word cards. I use a giant fly swatter that I purchased at the Dollar Store a few years ago and then the same note cards that I used for the fishing game. I lay the cards around the room and invite students to "swat" the words. I will say things like.... swat a word that makes the "ch" sound. Swat a word that has the letter a. Swat a color word etc.

You will need something to toss, bean bag/ beanie baby, hacky sack etc and again....some word cards. I use the same words cards that I have for the other games and a beanie baby. I lay the words out and have the students stand behind the line (I use masking tape to create a line). Students then toss the beanie baby and aim for a word. Whatever it lands on they must read, tell me a letter, use it in a sentence...whatever level they are at I go with it.

Pull out your Legos and print these letters (for free!) I put the Legos in the middle of my room and tell the kids to fill their letter. For early finishers I give them a different letter or ask them to use their letter to write as many words as they can. If another student is done they can do the same or see if their letter is in any of the words that the other student wrote down.

Even though this isn't a huge list hopefully it added a few more ideas to your basket of tricks. What phonics activities do you do in your classroom?

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Monday, October 9, 2017

Student Mail Delivery Job

After years of trying to find meaningful jobs for my students that actually worked on their IEP goals and objectives I think I have found the answer. This however, is not my original idea. So thanks to the person who gave me this idea through a Facebook post, it has truly changed my life.....or at least my afternoon M-F :).

Here is what I did to get started.
1) I contacted my administration team for approval. I explained the job and the purpose behind it.

2) Contacted teachers who were on planning during the time we would be delivering the mail. We currently have 7/26 teachers who participate (more would me more than willing to allow this but, this is enough for us right now). I chose teachers who were on planning to prevent minimal class disruptions and allow time for my students to practice their communication skills. I sent out this email:
Hello 1:30 Planning Team :),

      We have a few students who are starting a mail delivery job. This job is going to help build  organization, transition and communication skills. We would love if you would be willing to participate. If you choose to participate we just ask that you leave your mail in your mailbox and interact with the students during delivery. A simple wave or high-five would be appropriate. Your mail will be delivered daily between 1:30-2:15. If you are interested please let me know.

Mrs. Boysal

Within minutes everyone I sent it to replied with a YES!, Sounds like fun!, Can't wait to meet the kids! Thank so much!

2) I found something to organize and deliver the mail. Thankfully our office has a mail cart so I just snag that when we need it. For the organization part I just use one of the cheap plastic file folder crates. I think I got mine at Wal-Mart or Target. I plopped some hanging file folders in it (7 to match the number of teachers we were delivering to) and put teacher names on labels. I just attached a large Avery label to the hanging folder tab (to make it bigger). (I grabbed this picture from Google...the color hanging folders would work even better!!!!)

3) I then decided which students would do the job. I currently have 3 students participate. Two of them (alternate days) stock/organize the mail cart and 1 of them does the deliveries.

4) Stocking/Organizing the cart: The student pushes the cart (with the file crate already inside) to the mail room and takes the mail out of the teachers box and puts it in the corresponding folder. I have an adult help with every step of this. At this time my students are working on "putting in" so the para currently gets it out of the box and tells them where to put it. But, this is a great way to incorporate matching skills if your students are working on those. Simply put a colored sticker (I'm thinking those garage sale dots) on the mailbox and a matching sticker to their hanging file folder in the crate. The student can take it out of the "green dot" mailbox and put it in the "green dot" folder. I know some districts require every task to match the curriculum so here are a few more ideas to help make this educational.
-you could have uppercase letters on the mailbox and lowercase on the folder
-states on the mailbox and their capitals on the folder
-vocabulary word on the mailbox and a definition on the folder
-math problem on the mailbox and the answer on the folder
There are so many "matching" activities that you could incorporate into this job.

5) Delivering Mail: The student I have deliver the mail needs "heavy work" incorporated into their day so I add a backpack to the bottom of the cart before he leaves. The backpack is filled with reams of papers to weigh it down. This student pushes the cart through the halls and stops at the appropriate class. During this time he is working on, walking in the hall appropriately, looking where he is going, knocking on the door, getting the mail, walking it to the teacher, saying Hi! and coming back out to the cart. Following directions is the BIG goal here!!

6) Clean Up: The cart is brought back to the classroom, the backpack and file crate are taken out and the cart is returned to the office.

I will admit having snack following the job is VERY motivating for my students. I do not use food as a reinforcer during the day/other tasks so making sure snack time was right after this not so preferred activity helps.....SHH!!! They will never know I am that sneaky :) (Grab this First/Then chart here)

I absolutely love this job and am so glad that endlessly scrolling through Facebook at 2am finally paid off!! This job allows my students to build real life job skills, work on IEP goals and objectives and get some sensory input as well.

Do you do a mail delivery job in your classroom? What has been your favorite classroom job that you have implemented?

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