Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Adapting Games

Playing games in the classroom has always been something I enjoy. You have the opportunity to work on so many different skills, turn taking, communication, collaboration, problem solving etc. In fact a few years ago we played Monopoly every Friday. The kids did everything, set up the room, game board, pass out the money, pick their pieces and get started. At the beginning of the year it took almost 25 of the 30 minutes to achieve this but by the end of the year the kids were getting a solid 25 minutes of playing time. When I switched rolls and started to work with students who had more of a communication based academic routine verses content based games went out the window. However, a few years ago I attended a PD and one of the breakout sessions was on adapting games. It was so much fun!! Keep reading to see how I adapted a few games in my classroom.

Connect Four: So...the concept of this game is far beyond where my students are and quite frankly isn't really something I think my students need to learn how to play. So, I changed it up. I attached core vocabulary words to a file folder and taped it to the back of the game board/stand. Each student is given a color and when it is their turn they can select one word using their communication device and put their colored piece in that column OR they can start to build a sentence and put their colored piece in multiple spots. The person with the most colors at the end of the game wins. If a particular column gets filled up the students have to think of a different phrase.

This would be 2 colored pieces in the board.

This would be 1 colored piece in the board.

Sequence Letters: I honestly don't even know the rules of this game but my students just flip over a card and work together to find something that starts with that letter. If they are struggling the adult will narrow down a section of the board for them to look at. 

Scrabble Junior: The students do really enjoy this game. We pretty much play the way it is intended to play except every time they match a letter they get to move their little game piece (verses when they complete an entire word).

Guess Who: You can easily adapt this to be anything you want. You can add letters to each of the flip down pieces and have students draw a card with a picture. If the picture matches a letter they have flip it down. You could say a letter sound and they can flip down that letter. You could add core vocabulary pictures and have them draw the words and see if they can flip down the correct picture. If you wanted to be more content driven you could put vocabulary words and have the students draw the definitions.
Physical Adaptions:  Add velcro to the game board and pieces so students cannot easily knock them over. Color code the game to make it easier to see. Print out pictures of the students and have them make their own game pieces that way they are not having to remember the game rules and which piece is theirs.

Honestly the possibilities are endless. If you have an idea/concept you can easily adapt a game. Don't let the directions on the box limit you. I buy games for $5-10 all of the time and never think about how the actual game is played. I immediately think about how I can change it up to fit our needs. Games keep kids engaged, makes learning fun and allows you the opportunity to work on sooo many different skills.

Do you play games in your classroom? Have you considered adapting them?
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Saturday, October 6, 2018

Self Selected Independent Reading

I think many of us can agree that reading is a huge part of a child's education. There are so many different programs out there and all have their pros and cons but the one thing I can say across the board is that allowing students to read independently MUST be included. Not only reading independently but allowing students to choose the texts that they want to read, rather than being told what to read.

That's right, even our students with the most significant needs should participate in self selected/ independent reading. It may look different but giving them the opportunity is what should be occurring in classrooms.

Students in my room get 20-30 minutes everyday for self selected reading. During this time I do not tell my students what to read and the only instruction happening is behavior/classroom management. I even encourage the staff in my room to bring their own reading material as this is a great way to model for the students.

We start the year off trying to do this for 3 minutes and build up our stamina. Everyday we add a minute until we have reached 20-30 minutes of total reading time. During this time I allow students to not only pick their own reading materials but they are able to pick their own reading spots. I have many seating options and all are available.

My students love to read a variety of texts and I make sure to share with them what is available. I do this by using a variety of texts during shared reading time and showing them where they are located or how to access them.

I have traditional texts, adapted books, student made books and technology available for students. Some of our favorite websites/apps for books are Tarheel Reader (free), Unite for Literacy (free) and Raz-Kids (paid).


Do you have self-selected, independent reading time in your classroom? What does it look like? Would you want to add or change anything to your routine?

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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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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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