Monday, September 1, 2014

Words of Wisdom for Special Education Teachers


Teaching is hard.  Teaching special education is hard.  I have no doubts that teaching general education students is hard, but I can only speak about my experiences so far.  

This week, I'm going to have my first student teacher.  This is her first experience in a classroom will be observing and starting to take on some instructional duties.  It really made me think about what are the most important things I wish someone had told me.

So hear you have it, a random blog post about my jumbled up thoughts.


1.  You can only do the best you can do and that's it.  This has been so hard for me.  My students often come to me super low.  Learning and school can be really hard for my kids.  I've beat myself up about the slow progress, lack of progress, or behavior problems I've seen in my students.  I'm my worst critic and take their success and progress very personally.  There's so many things out of my control, but I can only do the best I can with the resources and schedule I have available.  Honestly, that's all you can do, too.  Don't beat yourself up over things.

2.  Every day NEEDS to be a new day with a fresh start.  This can be SUPER hard if you have a challenging student with behavior issues.  If you can some how greet that student with a positive attitude and let go of what happened yesterday, you will have a starting point for building a positive relationship with the student.

3.  Teach those procedures and routines like nothing else.  It doesn't matter if the students spend 30 minutes or the entire day in your classroom.  They need to know what to do from the second they walk in the door.  I try to make sure my kids have something that must do immediately.  That gives them a purpose for being in your room.  Idle time is time that behaviors you don't want often begin.

4.  Yes, you will need to differentiate for your students.  And yes, you will often have students at various levels.  However, try to group them as much as possible.  It is possible to differentiate so much that you're doing nothing well.  If the differentiation makes you so overwhelmed that you can't keep a handle on the amount of time, instruction, or work it takes.....it's not working.  I've tried that and ran myself ragged.  There's only one of me and so many of them.  What you do has to be physically manageable for you.

5.  Celebrate those small successes, even if they're really small.  Your students have probably had a long history of struggling and failing.  That takes a toll on their self-esteem and confidence.  

One of my 2nd grade students started this year knowing 8 sight words.  On Friday, he knew 15!  We've worked hard for those 15 words!  I practically threw him a party.  Since he was so excited, I gave him my lowest decodable to read.  I was keeping my fingers crossed that he would do ok.  And you know what, he did great!  Needed some small help but he did it almost independently.  Then he looked at me and said this:


I seriously almost cried!  Best words a student has ever said to me right there.  

6.  Have patience......lots of patience.  This is a hard area for me, too.  You will probably reteach and practice the same thing many times.  Your students might seem like they mastered a skill on Wednesday and then on Friday act like they've never even seen it before.  Sometimes I feel like I must be talking in a different language, because it's just not clicking.  These are the times that I need to remember patience.

7.  Sometimes you just have to stop.  Sometimes you have to realize that right now, at this very moment, these kids are not getting it.  Maybe you need to back up and teach some foundational skills.  Maybe their brains are fried.  Maybe they need a more concrete approach.  Instead of forcing through something that isn't working, you may need to just change gears and move onto something else.  Some day I'll have to get real honest with you guys and tell you my bluebird story from my first year of teaching.  It was not my proudest moment of teaching, and I always think about that lesson when I see the kids just aren't getting it.

There you go!  Nothing ground-breaking, but I wish someone had said these things to me.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Reading Wonders Curriculum in my Classroom (with freebies)


My school has recently adopted the McGraw-Hill Reading Wonders Program.  This is our first year using the program, and there has been a bit of a learning curve.  I've been using the program for the last 3 weeks and figuring out a way to best use it in my special education resource room.


It's taken some tweaking (and I'm sure I'll keep making changes throughout the year), but I have found a general routine that is semi-working.

I start each with these planning pages to help me get a good idea of what skills I'm teaching.  I feel like the pacing in the Reading Wonders program is WAY overwhelming and unrealistic (at least with my students).  I'd love to watch a lesson where they do everything in the program and stick with the time lines as suggested.

These lesson planning sheets help keep me on track and make sure I hit the major skills each week.


You can download the overview sheet from my friend Corinna at Surfin' Through Second {here} and you can read about how she's using Wonders in her classroom.  You can download my lesson planning sheet {here}.

My school has purchased the Reading Wonders intervention program, WondersWorks.  However, I only have one interactive workbook and 8 students.  So I've been doing a lot of supplementing.  One thing I don't like about the Reading Wonders program is the lack of hands-on centers and activities.   So I've started supplemental packs for each unit to give my students more visuals and practice.

I keep my morning routine pretty similar each day.  We do the phonemic awareness activity, review our sounds, practice decoding our phonics patterns, and use our SnapWords cards to practice our sight words.

As a group, we'll do some of the center activities found in my Reading Wonders units.  This is from Unit 1 Week 3 and focuses on sorting words with blends by the short vowel sound.


I also try to throw in some kind of activity that has us work on sorting, writing, or building words.  Making Words is our favorite activity so far.  I use these folders for the word building but use the Making Words activities from my supplemental units (beginning at Unit 1 Week 3).  Doing it on the carpet was perfect since the velcro on the letters sticks.  This way none of my students lose their letters.  :)
Or we might work on some of comprehension skills for the story, such as this visualizing strategy.


I try to do at least one writing about what we have read activity each week.  My students need extra support when writing and responding, so I made these freebie reading response sheets to go with Unit 1.


You can download them as a FREEBIE by clicking on the picture below.


It did take me a bit to figure out how I was going to assess my students.  The on-level and approaching tests are just too hard for my kiddos.  I have one who can semi-do the approaching level tests but needs support to get all the way through the test.  Those tests are REALLY long!

The weekly assessment in the WondersWork program is too difficult for my students to read independently, too!  I also didn't like the questioning format of the tests.  The directions would tell students to draw a box around the words that tell them so-and-so was sad.  Or some weird direction like that.  My students can't read the text!

I decided to take the passage from the WondersWork program but redo the questions.  I retyped the questions into multiple choice and added more questions.  I read the test and questions aloud to my students and this way I can assess their listening comprehension.  I may or may not upload these for you guys depending on how I feel it's working out.

I wanted to make sure my parents understood the level their student was being assessed on.  I made this quick sheet that I attach to the students' tests.  For the student who got 8/8 questions correct, I will give him the approaching level test (with me reading it aloud to him) next week and see how he does.


Since my students are struggling readers, I also want to make sure they are mastering the sight words and phonics patterns.  I made these Quick Checks to help me assess their progress each week.


I'm working on finishing the quick checks and uploading them to my TpT store.

For small group reading, I have been using the leveled readers from the WondersWorks program.  I will say that I've had a hard time figuring out how to fit it all in.  I do need to plan better so that I get more small group and one-on-one reading time with my students.  There's so much to do for the program that it can feel very overwhelming.

If you're interested in checking out my Reading Wonders units, you can download my sample Smart Start unit as a FREEBIE by clicking on the picture below.


You can also check out my activities for Unit 1 Week 1 by clicking on the picture below.


I will be making units to supplement each week of the Reading Wonders program.  I have currently finished all the way through Unit 2 Week 3.  

I hope this gives you a glimpse of how I'm using this program in my classroom.  It's definitely been a bit of trial and error to figure out a system.  I'm still working out some kinks but starting to feel like I'm finally getting into a groove.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

7 Tips for Scheduling IEP Meetings

As I scheduled my first IEP of the new school year,  I thought I should share some tips for any new Special Ed teachers out there.  Your first IEP meeting can be really nerve-wracking!  


1.  Make sure you're aware of your IEP and ReEval due dates.  I always try to schedule my meetings at least 2 weeks out prior to the due date.  You don't want to schedule your meeting the day before the IEP is due and then have the parents cancel on you.  If you give yourself a little leeway, you still have time to hold the meeting if there is a cancellation.

I use this little calendar to help me keep on track.  You can download your own editable version by clicking on the picture below.


2.  Speak to the gen ed teachers, admin, SLPS, OTs, PTs, etc. before you call the parents.  Are there days that are just off limits for one of the team members?  Maybe they can't stay after school for a meeting on Thursdays, because they have to get their child from school early.  The team members will appreciate if you speak to them beforehand about possible dates.

3.  Before you call the parents have several possible dates/times in mind for the meeting.  You never want to call the parents and tell them that they have to come in on a specific date for a meeting.  I try to be very  conscious of parents' time.  Many of them work or have transportation issues so they may need to plan ahead to attend a meeting.

4.  Have the school's phone number in eyesight.  Every time I need to leave a message for a parent to call me back, my mind goes blank and I forget our school's phone number.  So silly but I need to have it written down in front of me.

5.  Log in your contact with the parent or any messages you leave.  This will be especially useful if you have trouble getting the parent in for a meeting.

6.  Send your parents a reminder a day or two before the meeting.  We're all busy and a quick reminder is always helpful.  I also like to send a friendly email reminder to the IEP team members a day before reminding them of the meeting.

7.  I like to hold my meetings in my classroom.  This way my parents can see the room, and I can easily access all of the student's work and data.  However if you know the parent will be bringing the student or younger child and will not make them behave, schedule your meeting in a neutral place like the office conference room.  You do not want kids running around destroying your room while the parent just sits there.  

I hope this is helpful!

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Keeping Resource Students on Schedule

I'm joining up with some other fabulous bloggers for the monthly Bright Ideas Blog Hop!  I always get such great ideas from other teachers.


As a resource teacher, I'm servicing students from 6 different gen ed classrooms.  That means I have students with 6 different special schedules.  I always joke that my classroom feels like kids are getting on and off a merry-go-round all day long.


But seriously.....it really does feel like that and make teaching rather difficult when you have a schedule like this, for example.


This is a sample schedule since our special schedule hasn't really started yet.  Some days are WAY worse than this with nonstop kids in and out at different times all day long.  It drives me crazy.

My first few years of teaching I put a big schedule on the board and would spend all day trying to remember to send Johnny to PE at 9:30 and then remember to send Henry to Music at 9:45.  My poor kids missed so many specials, because I would forget.  Or I would just be so wrapped up in teaching or a behavior problem that I wouldn't even realize that Susie needed to be a Speech right this second.

Last year, I thought of this super easy way to keep my kids on track.


I still keep my big schedule on the board.  But I also plugged all the times and days of the week into my phone's alarm.  This saved me so much heartache!  It did take 16 alarms set in the phone last year, but it was ok.  My kids never missed a specials class.  

I set the alarm for 5 minutes before the special time.  That way they have time to quickly clean up their area or activity and head out the door.  I was worried it would be disruptive to the class, but it's really not a big deal.  The alarm goes off, everyone looks at the schedule, and someone leaves.  Then I keep on teaching.  I even taught my kids how to turn off the alarm in case they were closer to my phone than me.

This was a lifesaver to me and I hope it will help you out, too!

If you enjoyed this bright idea, please consider joining me on Facebook or Instagram for more great ideas.

For more bright ideas from more than 100 different bloggers, please browse through the link-up below and choose a topic/grade level that interests you. Thanks for visiting!




Thursday, August 7, 2014

8 First Day of School Tips for Special Education

Last Friday was the first day of school here in Hawaii.  Even though I didn't start pull out services on Friday, I wanted to make sure my students and general education teachers had a smooth day.  Here's some tips on how you can support those students right from the start!


1.  Make sure you give the general education teachers copies of any behavior plans, accommodations, etc. BEFORE the first day of school.   Do students need to be seated near the teacher?  Are there any special plans for behavior that people need to know?

2.  Do any of your students need to be met at the bus that provides transportation for special education students?  If so, make sure someone is there to meet them and walk them to their class.  The bus is likely to be late the first few days of school.  Be prepared to wait.  Will these students need to eat breakfast?  Have a plan in place before the first day!

3.  Think about supporting the general education classrooms.  The first day is so hectic and teachers have so much to get done.  Can you or your aide go into the classrooms and help?  If you have several teachers you support, make a schedule and rotate around.

4.  Take time to at least briefly speak to each student and welcome them back to school.  Your relationship with the students can really make or break your year.  Let them know that you care right from the start.

5.  Let the general education teachers know that you are available during the day to help.  Some students might have some behavior concerns due to transition issues.  These students might need a place they can go to take a break from the hectic classroom.

6.  If students have transition concerns, try to give them support during the most stressful parts of the day such as first thing in the morning, lunch time and at the end of the day.

7.  If you are going into the classrooms to support students, be helpful!  The general education teachers have so much to do that day.  Help other students that need assistance if you can.  

8.  Remember to take care of you, too!  Don't forget to drink water, eat lunch, and go to the bathroom during the day.

I hope you all have a great year!

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Meet and Greet for Special Education Teachers (freebie)

My school just had our Meet and Greet before school started.  This is an opportunity for students to come in, meet their new teachers, see their new classrooms, and bring in supplies.  Does your school do something like this before the first day?  

I love this opportunity, but special education teachers (especially if you do pull-out/resource) are often waiting in their classrooms with little to no students showing up.  I realized that most parents probably just don't think about coming by to see the special education teacher or they don't even know where to go!

Every year, I place a card on my students' desks in their gen ed rooms.  


Then I got my room already for parents and students to come by!

And sure enough, it works!  Out of 10 students on my caseload (more will be added I'm sure), I had 7 come see me and all were holding their cards. 

Meet and Greet is a great opportunity to talk to your parents in a low-stress setting.  Oftentimes, IEPs can be really stressful.  I like to be able to talk to parents in other settings.  I really do feel like this helps build those relationships with parents that are so important and lets them know you care.

If you're interested in using these cards, I have an updated set here as a freebie.  You'll just need to print, fill in your room number, and add your name.  I've added 3 different versions that have slightly different wording to suit different situations.  Just click on the picture below to download yours!


Sunday, August 3, 2014

First Week of School Activities (freebies)


Last Friday was actually the first day of school here in Hawaii.  But I'm a special education teacher and don't start pulling kids until Monday.  Even though I'm only teaching core academics to my pull-out students, I have most of them the majority of the day.  The first few weeks of school are so important for setting the ton for the rest of the year, and I will be working hard on behavior and community building this year.

I just love these beginning of the year activities by A Year of Many Firsties and can't wait to use them with my students.


As part of our community building, we'll be using these Find Someone Who activity that I made.  I'll be doing a lot of modeling how to approach our classmates and ask them a question.  And I'll be modeling how to use the pictures to help us if we can't read the words.  You can download it {here}.


I bought this Take a Break unit from Teaching in Progress and can't wait to use it with my students.  I'll be doing a lot of practicing and teaching my kiddos how to take a break, hopefully before they need a break.


I have several students with behavior plans and we will be focusing a lot on how to handle our anger. We'll be talking about how we feel and what we can do to help us make smart choices by using some of the activities found in my Making Smart Choices unit.


We can't just focus on behavior though.  My school will be using Reading Wonders for the first time this year.  I made this Smart Start freebie to help us get started.


Best of all, there's a sale starting tomorrow!  You can get 28% off everything in my store by using code BTS14 when you check out.