Thursday, February 22, 2018

Nailing Your Observation

"I am coming to observe you tomorrow, what would be a good time?" These may be the exact words you have heard from your administrator sometime in your teaching career. So many things may be running through your mind, is anytime a good time? tomorrow won't be good, I need more time to prepare, Thursday's are better can you do that? What the heck am I going to teach?

What if I told you that you CAN nail your observation with 1 day, even 1 hours notice? It is possible!! Keep reading to see the 3 steps I take to help me nail my observations.

1) Invite your administration in regularly. Keep your doors open and create a welcoming space. If your administrators see you in your environment regularly they are taking note of all of the great things they are seeing and how hard you are working. Hopefully they will also see the rapport you have with the staff in your room. Having them in regularly should start to calm your nerves and your students will get accustom to it. That way, when the observation day does come it is just like any other time they may be popping in.

2) DON'T CHANGE YOUR ROUTINE!!!  I don't have enough fingers to count how many times I have seen the post "I am getting observed tomorrow what should I teach?".....(part of the reason I am writing this 😜). While it is okay to want to do something super fun and engaging, if your students aren't used to it, the grand idea you have in your head, may be a giant flop. If you are really wanting to add some flair to your lesson think about what you already do. What tiny little thing could you change or add to make it a little more exciting? Doing this will not only add something fresh but it will ensure that your students will understand the routine and flow so you are not having to spend your entire observation restating directions.

An example: My students do independent writing everyday (you can read about that here). If they have been writing 1 sentence for the past few weeks this is what I may do for my observation. I would conference with a student and say "I was looking over your writers notebook and I noticed a lot of great work. Can I show you some of my favorite writing pages you did?" I would then go through 2-3 pages with them. Pointing out how great the pictures are, how they have a capital letter and period. Really building them up and making them feel like a great author who is proud of their work. I would then say "You are doing such a great job with your writing, so good in fact that today instead of writing 1 sentence, I want you to write 2 sentences." Hopefully they will get excited about this and will be up for the challenge. If they are not, that is okay. Tell them it's okay to be a little nervous to change it up. How about this, you write 1 sentence like you always have and then we can write the second sentence together?

Doing this shows your administrator a few things 1) you are pushing your students further and challenging them   2) you know how to build your students up  3) you are teaching your students to own their work, be proud of what they accomplished  4) you are showing/teaching your students about emotions and how to work through those 5) you are striving for independence but offer support if students seek it.

3) Ask for feedback!! Remember an observation is not an evaluation. It is one part of your evaluation. Get the feedback and make a plan to improve the areas that your administrator pointed out. If there is something they pointed out that you thought went well ask them what they would have done differently. Then....invite them back in and tell them ahead of time. "I have been working on ________, I would like to know if you would come in to let me know if this is what you had in mind."

It is important to remember that while administrators are going through tons of trainings on the evaluation process they are most likely being trained on 1 rubric. And it is pretty safe to say that this rubric is written for the general education population. Work with your administrator to define and understand how the rubric would fit your classroom.

Let's recap!
1) Invite your admins in regularly
2) Don't change up your routine
3) Ask for feedback

Do you have any more tips for teacher observations?

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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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