Saturday, September 16, 2017

Student Self Selected Reading

We all have it, those moments during the day where are classrooms are still. The students are attending to a task, the adults are quiet and for that one small moment, maybe 15 seconds, we can take a breath.

What would you do if you could block out 15-25 minutes everyday just for that? Time to take a step back and just breathe. Think about all of the things you could get done. Think about the skills you would be instilling in your students. Keep reading to see how I am able to achieve 15 minutes of peace in my classroom each day. **Disclaimer: I love my students and staff, the rest of the day is amazing. There is just something about this 15 minutes that calms me down.

A few years ago I attended a training about Emergent Literacy for students with significant needs (you can read more about that here). During part of the training the presenter spoke about self selected reading. At that time I thought to myself, actually I stated it to those around me, how the heck am I supposed to get my students reading independently? They struggle to attend to tasks with a lot of engagement and prompting let alone tasks that require them to engage themselves. But the more I looked into it and the more I practiced it with my students I realized it wasn't so much about them "reading" independently but more about them selecting their own reading materials and exploring them. When I made this switch I realized how valuable this skill is.  

So, how is it done? The first thing I would suggest is getting reading materials that all of your students are able to access. You can choose traditional books, big books, adapted books or online material (Raz-Kids and Tar Heel reader are our favs). If you are struggling to build your library due to cost (lets face it, books are expensive and kids handling them tend to make their lifespan much shorter) consider hitting up garage sales, your local library, family/friends or my favorite a retired/retiring teacher. Don't think you need to have a Pinterest worthy library to get started. As long as you have at least 3-5 books for each student you are golden. 

Once you have your books, set up an area that is dedicated to self-selecting reading. This allows your students to gain an understanding of what the space and materials are used for. You can have a large or small space depending on how your classroom is designed. I would suggest that the space is inviting and offers many seating options (my district is all about Next-Gen and flexible learning spaces/seating) so students are comfortable and feel like they have  a voice and choice of everything during this time. This is what my space looks like this year. I don't have traditional style seating in my classroom for whole group instruction so I have a lot of bean bags and easy to move chairs that we/the kids can use if necessary so please don't mind the mess :).

Here is what our book selection area looks like, I have it marked as the "Self Selected Reading" area so the students know (grab that here). I also make sure to have our Rules posted (grab those here), a chart that lets the students/adults know what level the kids can pick from (grab that here) and I have a visual that shows the different options the kids have during Self Selected Reading time (grab that here). 

As you can see the section on the right has leveled bins. I wasn't expecting some of my readers to be reading above an F so please excuse the miss matched labels 😬.  What I did differently this year was make sure to have both upper and lowercase letters on the label as some of my students can only identify uppercase at this time. I have also put the same label on the bottom right corner of the book. I also have a section on the left for adapted book bins. These are not leveled and I allow any of my students to read these as they are a great way for the kids to stay engaged. 

This year I am really diving into the ULS (Unique Learning System) curriculum for reading. I wanted a way to display the supplemental reading materials to go along with each unit so I got this book display. I have taught students/adults that these books all have a red dot on the corner (red to match the display stand) and to look for the level. If the level is above their reading level I still encourage them to select a book from here (as it goes along with our unit) but they will need to ask an adult for help.

So now that you have a space and materials it's time to get the kids reading. Plan out a block in your day for self selected reading. I currently have 15 minutes and put it at the end of my reading block. Be intentional about this time and teach/model exactly what you want the students to do. You can even consider reading each day with them. Grab your favorite book, pull up a comfy cozy and indulge. I personally use this time to get materials ready for the next lesson, conference with students and pull students for a quick lesson (still allowing time for them to do some self-selected reading).

**This is a Google Image. I do not take credit or own this photo.
This will consider some mind shifting. You will have to be okay with kids self-selecting and attending/exploring vs. independent reading. You will have to be okay with kids waving the adapted book you just spent time laminating and assembling. As time goes on the kids will learn. I have students with significant cognitive, behavioral and physical needs and we do this. You can do this!!! One of my students took part in this everyday last year. It wasn't clicking and he needed a lot of support but this year, he is able to look, open and even point and vocalize while looking at the book independently 😁.

My biggest piece of advice is to let you know it takes time. This is not going to look pretty the first day, month maybe even a year. But, think about how valuable this is. If your students develop this skill they will be able to visit and be socially accepted in a library, coffee shop etc. There parents/care givers could throw in a load of laundry or use the bathroom without having to worry about what their child is doing.

So take a step back, implement self selected reading and take a moment to breathe!!!!

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Sunday, September 10, 2017


Project Based Learning or PBL is the new craze. It is all about student led and future focused. When I first heard about PBL I was a little skeptical. I thought it was awesome and a great way for general education students to work on communication, collaboration, creativity and critical thinking but I was still stumped on how our students with significant needs were going to be able to do this. If you are still a little confused on what PBL is all about here is a great graphic to show the difference between projects and PBL's.

My school is a PBL school and all of us are required to either teach or help with a PBL project each year. Last year I teamed up with our speech paths and we had the kids plan a party to thank all of their friends for helping them throughout the year. While it was a great project and the kids had fun I really wanted to do something more this year. Keep reading to see the project I have planned for this school year.

When thinking about planning a PBL project in my severe needs special education class I knew things where going to have to be a little different. Instead of allowing the students free reign I was going to have a provide a lot of scaffolding and allow for the "student led" and "voice and choice" to come through during teacher driven activities. Even though this isn't traditional PBL....our classrooms are not traditional and as long as we are trying that's all that matters.

So, what do I have planned for this year? We all know questioning is a huge part of our special education classrooms. Almost all of my students have some sort of "wh" question goal. So, why not teach these through a fun and engaging PBL?

Drumroll please..... our PBL project is called "Dream Vacation". I am going to have the kids plan their dream vacation. Throughout this project students will learn all about the "wh" question words.  I am planning on only doing this project on Friday's so it will more than likely take us to winter break. I made this bulletin board and plan on hanging our anchor charts up once we have learned about a specific "wh" question word.

Our launch item will be this Arthur episode. The hope is that it will get kids to start thinking about vacations.

After this I plan to have the kids branch off and watch some videos on different vacation spots. I have some bookmarked showing skiing, swimming, hiking, amusement parks etc. The paras will have a sheet to help the students mark down their favorites. I am then going to have them take it home and have them work with their parents to narrow down what they would like to do.

Then each week we will focus on a different "wh" word. They will have to explain "who" is going on the vacation, "where" they are going, "when" they will go, "what" they will do, "how" they will get there and "why" they think it's a good trip.

Through learning about the "wh" question words we will start to build their "Dream Vacations". The goal is at the end of the PBL students will be able to showcase their dream vacation. A huge part of PBL's is the public product. I am thinking the kids can create a video, brochure or set up a little area that resembles their vacation. I would love to invite their families, our administration and community members in to see what they came up with. Make sure to check back throughout the year to see how this PBL is shaping up.

While attending a PBL conference this summer one major thing stuck with me; PBL's are messy. Don't be afraid to dive in and let the student's take the lead. So, no matter how much my type A personality wants everything to line up perfectly I have to let it go. In the end everyone will learn more and grow.

Do you do PBL in your classroom? What projects have you done?

If you are interested in learning more about PBL make sure to check out The Buck Institute for Education does all things PBL and has a ton of information and pre-made projects listed.
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