Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Special Education Writing: Interactive Literature Notebooks

After 35 years of working in special education, I have research and implemented many best practices for teaching reading. I have developed a fairly simple philosophy, that more time spent reading great literature at the student’s instructional level, is the best way to increase reading skills. Based on that philosophy, I have created a classroom library/ program built on wonderful children’s literature, old and new. I have also found that struggling readers and writers learn skills best when they are taught in the context of interesting text. Chunking big words, using context clues, and noticing the author’s craft are a few. Struggling readers almost always struggle with writing. And in reality, what is an essential writing skill to have on the job? Writing a summary! I have developed fun and easy-to-access writing summary frames for four of my favorite pieces of readable children’s literature: Stone Fox, By the Great Horn Spoon, Little House in the Big Woods, and My Father’s Dragon. I have never encountered a child or adult who did not like these books, and most loved them! The first interactive notebook unit I wrote was for My Father’s Dragon, and one of my 5th grade boys asked me if I could create another unit for our next class book. Of course, when a resource student asks for a writing activity, you know there must be something good about it! I have also included suggested teaching points for guided reading in each unit. they are not scripted, and you can take them or leave them. I know that I find it helpful as a teacher, to have a guide of key vocabulary, themes, and writing structure to guide my teaching. I have not included an answer key for the units, partly because there is no correct answer, and the child should think of these interactive notebooks as a way to tell the story. By illustrating the stories, this also gives them ownership and understanding of the reading and writing. The bottom line: We as teacher can and should facilitate the love of reading! More children will discover that world of literature and books, which will better equip them to be successful adults! Interactive Literature Notebook Bundle Enjoy these literature interactive notebooks!

Interactive Literature Bundle

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Special Needs Behavior Management

Here is an exerpt from my special education manual,
How To Be a Resource Specialist. 
It's featured in Rachel Lynette's Blog!
Special Needs Behavior Management
Behavior management is tricky, and special needs behavior management is even trickier! Consider all types of special education eligibility areas- Autism, Speech and Language, Emotional Disturbance, Other Health Impaired(which could include ADHD)- to name a few, and all the behaviors that could come with them! Special needs behaviors can also be observed in children without IEP's: the child with undiagnosed ADHD, or oppositional characteristics.  Take into account the fact that these students have had behavior issues throughout their school history, and many negative experiences probably exist in their young memories.
  As a veteran special education teacher, I am still trying to fine-tune my own behavior management skills, but I do think there are some important factors to consider. We can have a specific mindset when facilitating great behavior, and it should include a few things: empathy, kindness, openness, firmness, and honesty. No kid wants to be in trouble all the time! No child wants to be without friends! Our students crave boundaries and consistency. You really have to try to get into each child's head, whether the are initially likeable or not. They are kids!
  I have a few tricks and tools that I use in my own resource classroom, and in other classrooms. My informal behavior systems tend to be no-frills. For my primary special education students, I use a simple point system and a treasure box. It really depends on how you deliver that system, and training other staff to do the same. When I re-stock my school treasure box, I gather the little ones on the rug, and ooh and ah over each Hotwheels car, or Wonder Woman coloring book! When they earn a point, I use specific praise: "Great job getting ready to read independently," for the child who isn't quite sitting and reading, but I know will be there soon! It is critical that paras are using the same enthusiasm and consistency. For my intermediate students, who have often known me for 3-4 years, I am strict but fun; random rewards, and a handful of goldfish crackers go a long way.
  I communicate frequently with parents, and I meet them where they are most comfortable. This may be at pick-up time, by email, phone, or sometimes at their home. Some children need that daily communication, and I find that a simple chart in a journal going back and forth each day, can increase positive behaviors.
  Many students need to take breaks. With students who have autism, ADHD, and mental health issues, learning to take a non-punitive break works wonders. Classroom teachers and parents need to be involved with the plan. A quiet break space can be made in the classroom with pillows, books, and fidgets. Teach and practice taking breaks with the student.
  In my manual, How To Be a Resource Specialist, I have a section on essential behavior strategies, which I feel are important. You will find many solid behavior systems in the teaching world and through inservice trainings, but these are skills that will help drive the specific system you choose. Here is an excerpt from my 35 years-plus of learning how to manage special needs behavior!

Managing Special Needs Behavior
  As special educators, our behavior management techniques are a little different from managing a whole-group general ed. classroom. I would say that80% of my students have behavioral issues, although not all of them are dis-ruptive and aggressive. Imagine the quirky, socially awkward child with attention issues, or the child who quietly shuts down and fades into the back-
ground. Of course, much of our expertise is focused on the child with aggression, and/or hyperactivity who disrupts theirs and other students’ learning. Following are some essential areas to focus on when managing smallgroups and individuals with special needs.

As the special education teacher, we have to make a concentrated effort to connect with each child. Find out each child’s interests, talents, favorite sport or pastime. Spend a few minutes of one-on- one time with each child weekly. Meet their parents, hang out with them on the playground, and watch them in PE class.

Everybody is good at something. Find out what it is in every child that you work with, and capitalize on it. If soccer is a passion and strength for a child with a reading disability, check out soccer books. If your student with autism loves to do crafts, buy some craft supplies, keep them in a box, and let her invite a friend for Lunch Bunch.

Create an environment in your resource room which is structured, soothing, and promotes positive social interaction. Furnish the room with bean bag chairs and big pillows, as well as comfy little chairs, and break areas. Break the students into small groups as much as possible. Have fidgets available, and plants to water. Don't make the walls to cluttery.

Fun but Firm
It is easy for our students to misbehave, and each group is going to be different. Let the silly jokes and happiness flow, but be prepared to rein the group in the second it gets too loud, or hands are not kept to themselves. I prefer switching the lights off with a simple, “Eyes on me,” but you might like
using a chime, or clapping pattern.

Reward and Praise
Specific verbal praise is highly effective. “Shahid, you are such a fraction expert, or Monica, your body is so calm!” This verbal praise must be sincere, specific, and constant. Add your group and individual behavior systems.

It is not always easy, but try to ignore all negative behavior, while complimenting the great behavior that you want to see. If a student is avoiding a writing project by tapping their pencil, ripping paper, and whispering to table partners, compliment the people sitting around her, reinforce the kids who are working correctly, and catch that non-compliant child doing something right! “Asher, you are holding you pencil and you look like you are ready to work!”

Breaks and Space
We need to take frequent class breaks, by either changing stations, moving from desks to the rug, changing from computer work to manipulatives, or getting drinks. Individual children also need to take breaks. An anxious child may need to go for a walk with the paraeducator. A wiggly child may need jobs like emptying the recycle bin or watering the plants. An angry child may need
to sit in a bean bag and read a book or squeeze clay.

Listen and Talk
When the time is right, and the child has calmed down, don’t shame or punish, if at all possible. Yes, a logical consequence is necessary for the child who yells an expletive and hurts another child. But, as much as possible, talk to the child who throws a chair at you, and find out what will work next time they are feeling agitated. Enlist the support of the school counselor and other IEP team
members to create a plan for the child to learn and be supported. Remember that many misbehaving children are craving any kind of attention, including negative attention. Make a plan by collaborating with experts (this includes parents!) to find replacement behavior that works.


Bio: I have worked as a special educator on the central coast of California for more than 35 years, with K-12 experience, as a program specialist, and as a resource specialist at a small diverse school for the last 20 years. I adore working in my community and having had the chance to cheer at soccer games for my own 4 kids as well as my students. My husband is my biggest cheerleader, and encouraged my to start this TPT journey about 3 years ago when I was recovering from a gnarly bladder cancer/chemotherapy experience. At that time, creating TPT products was therapeutic, and helped me look forward to my glorious future as an educator!

Photo: High School graduation last June with my two youngest(adopted from Kazakhstan, and my first grandchild). My older children are teachers, and daughter-in-law is a speech pathologist. She and my son have the TPT store Joe and Allie Teach.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Getting Non-Readers Reading

I feel like I have been on a quest to get non-readers to read for the last 20 years. I know that pretty much every child will learn to read eventually. It literally takes time, practice, and internalizing strategies. This summer I created little books in simple language for summer school students to illustrate. I noticed that they took ownership of their little books, the words, and the information.
When school started this year, I had one child in mind when I created a simple repetitive book about the beginning of school.

School is Fun is one of three little readers in this "Illustrate My Own Reader" product!  Illustrate My Own Reader Bundle #1

 And guess what? This child was a non-reader last year in first grade, and after illustrating and talking about this little book, I would say that he read about 85% percent of the words successfully! He is on the way to becoming a reader. Most teachers I know are willing to try anything to get a child reading. This one is language impaired, and his disability has truly affected his reading skills. Through a combination of early intervention, speech, EL, Reading Recovery and our resource program, he is well on his way.
  I have also featured a few more illustrations from some other cool kids in my resource class in this blogpost today!

You may also like my newest bundle which includes Growth Mindset:
Illustrate My Own Reader Bundle #2

Monday, September 7, 2015

Hill of Fire......Kids love Volcanoes!

I love to co-teach, and it was really fun to come into a 2nd grade class as the guest art teacher! I have 3 resource students in the class, and I appreciate getting to know their whole class. Hill of Fire, byThomas P. Lewis, is a very readable and interesting beginning chapter book, that all children find ways to connect with. It is a true historic event that happened in Mexico, and anything that has to do with volcanoes is appealing to 2nd graders!

I have literature/guided reading unit for Hill of Fire:

and a volcano directed drawing/painting lesson:

And here's a tip: Use watercolor paper, and the colors with pop!

Friday, August 14, 2015

Illustrate My Own Reader

I just have too much fun with these little books, and I know the children will also when school starts! This one is free right now. I wrote the story about 20 years ago and actually had it illustrated and published. Enjoy!

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Back to School!

Flash Freebie!

I had great success with these little books in summer school. They are designed for beginning readers and special ed primary kids. It seems like when children have the opportunity to make a book their own- by illustrating it- they connect better with the text! I created "School is Fun," for all of us to use in the first few days, and the soccer and basketball books with specific students in mind. I sure there are lots of soccer stars out there! Enjoy~ Laura

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Managing Special Needs Behavior

Behavior management is hard!
There, I've said it! It takes years to establish your own style of behavior management, but here are some essential areas that I have discussed in my new revision of How to Be a Resource Specialist.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Fourth of July may be my Favorite Holiday- and a Great Children's Book

They loved illustrating their own 4th of July books!

This book is in Spanish and English, and the students loved it!

When a postcard arrives from Uncle Chente saying that he will visit on the Fourth of July, the Cardenas family happily awaits his visit. They plan a picnic with an array of Tejano food, ideal for a Texas picnic, and then they plan the decorations. The only thing they can't plan is the weather.
Just before Uncle Chente arrives, mother nature threatens to rain out all their summer fun. The kids panic at the prospect of Uncle Chente's arrival on a rainy day. But, the kids soon discover that it takes more than a summer thunderstorm to ruin a beautiful day of fun-filled stories and time spent together.
In the tradition of their previous collaboration, Family, Famiia, illustrator Pauline Rodriguez Howard and Gonzales Bertrand bring children aged 3 to 7 a story about family bonds so strong that even a rainy day makes the perfect picnic.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

I'm working on this for my summer school class.....hope to have some completed copies before the 4th weekend! I am teaching 2nd grade for a week and decided to do lots of patriotic activities, including the blueberry and strawberry flag cake!

Sunday, June 14, 2015

School's out!
Summer should be: lazy, productive, enriching, casual, full of family, creative, restoring, and educational!
Thus, as a parent of 4, grandma of 1, teacher of many, I must say that there should not be too much required reading(maybe 1-2 books), lots of lazy quiet time, choice for kids, and trips to the library, lake, pool, and beach! I created this activity to use as you see fit, and just give your children a bit of reading and writing to maintain their skills, and keep their brains open to the magic of books and writing! Free for a few days!! xo Laura

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Special Education Students Love Excellent Literature! Gold Rush Time~

By the Great Horn Spoon by Sid Fleischman is a fabulous piece of literature. Humor, history, adventure, fine special education students can really get caught up in this book! In my group of 15 4-6th graders, we have the range of special ed eligibilities you will find in a resource class: learning disabilities, emotional disturbance, and autism. I can truly say that each kid loves this book. It is timeless. Of course, we are Californians, and some of the geography is very familiar to us! If you are not familiar with the story, here's some info: By the Great Horn Spoon! takes place during the gold rush in California in 1849. Jack and his butler Praiseworthy stowaway on the Lady Wilma a ship. They meet many interesting characters on their adventure to find gold in California. They must make money to pay for Jack’s house back home, so that Aunt Arabella and his sisters can keep the family home. I've got reading levels from 1st to 6th in this group, and behaviors that require some creativity on the teacher's part. We break up into groups and I use my incredible senior citizen volunteers to read to partner read with kids. Yes, there are some who we read to! I have discovered that my interactive journals are a fun way to get the students writing and thinking, along with a journal which they value and re-read at the end of the year. I have actually had the students ask me to create these interactive journals for other books! Here's a sample:

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Literature and Road Agents! By the Great Horn Spoon!

We are reading a classic piece about California history in our resource room. 16 kids, 4th through 6th grade are digging in to this piece of literature by Sid Fleischman. I am creating a unit that is adapted for students with learning disabilities, autism, and emotional issues, as is the make-up of my class. We read from 1st to about 5th grade level. Did I mention that I have a slew of senior citizen volunteers who read aloud, and one-on-one with our children? I am also having a sale in my TPT sale this weekend! Sorry, I have not finished this unit.....coming soon! By the way, the road agent pictured above, did not really rob the stage coach in which Cut-Eye Higgins, Praiseworthy, and Jack were headed to Sacramento City on! Happy Saturday, Laura

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Common Core needs to be Engaging and Accessible

I don't have a problem with Common Core, but I am concerned about how it is delivered. I am seeing too many children, K-6, who are not able to access it because it is not at their instrucional level, or it is delivered in a non-engaging manner. The standards need to be broken down into reachable components. I am not an expert, but if you are teaching 5th graders Standard 9- Compare/Contrast, it needs to be meaningful. What are they going to compare and contrast in real life? How are they going to integrate two pieces of writing and dig deeper? Or perhaps with our special education students we need to "unwrap" the standards by reading text to the students, and finding different ways for them to display their learning, maybe a poster instead of an essay. Younger kids who cannot access language-heavy lessons--------- Work with numbers 11-19 to gain foundations for place value. CCSS.MATH.CONTENT.K.NBT.A.1 Compose and decompose numbers from 11 to 19 into ten ones and some further ones, e.g., by using objects or drawings, and record each composition or decomposition by a drawing or equation (such as 18 = 10 + 8); understand that these numbers are composed of ten ones and one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, or nine ones. ******************************************************************************** Older kids learn to fake it because they make not be at the point developmentally of learning the skills---------- Apply and extend previous understandings of multiplication and division to divide fractions by fractions. CCSS.MATH.CONTENT.6.NS.A.1 Interpret and compute quotients of fractions, and solve word problems involving division of fractions by fractions, e.g., by using visual fraction models and equations to represent the problem. For example, create a story context for (2/3) ÷ (3/4) and use a visual fraction model to show the quotient; use the relationship between multiplication and division to explain that (2/3) ÷ (3/4) = 8/9 because 3/4 of 8/9 is 2/3. (In general, (a/b) ÷ (c/d) = ad/bc.) How much chocolate will each person get if 3 people share 1/2 lb of chocolate equally? How many 3/4-cup servings are in 2/3 of a cup of yogurt? How wide is a rectangular strip of land with length 3/4 mi and area 1/2 square mi?. ********************************************************************************* Sorry, you've lost me! I think I will offer my Keep the Lights Burning Abbie! lesson free for a week. I want new teachers to have units that teach kids that reading is a lifelong treasure! Enjoy! Laura

Monday, February 9, 2015

Special Education Teacher Burnout

Not that I never had really hard days, and stayed awake at night worrying about IEP issues, but I never burned out. I started out a loooooong time ago, and gradually worked into the dream job of a special education resource specialist at a small diverse neighborhood school. I feel like I can be creative, and make a difference. But, burnout is a real thing among all teachers, and special education is a tricky and difficult field to be in at times. I have mostly worked with mild to moderate disablities, and all ranges of socio-economics. The hard things for me have been mental illness and behavior disorders, endless paperwork(IEP documention, reporting, testing), and an occasional difficult adult to deal with. Notice I did not say parent. All kinds of adults! So my advice to you youngsters is: set boundaries(no, I am not always good at this), take care of your family and yourself first, and find ways to be passionate about your job. I have attached a page from my Resource Specialist Manual that addresses this! The "First, Then" chart is a useful goody too!