Thursday, June 25, 2009


on our walk to the first grade picnic from school we pass through a small wooded path. it's a fantastic walk to make with little ones because the dark woods just beg the imagination. the kindergartners i'd gone with the week before had all taken my hand and shouted, "look! a bear!"

my bff took one look at the forest, turned to me and said, "oh, little red riding hood, here is your basket to take to your grandma. here is your red riding hood." i bent down as he pretended to put it on my head and tie it around my chin. then we skipped along the path- me trying to make sure the other kids stayed out of the mud- him in his own fairy tale world.

when we got to the park he immediately ran and got a stick, carried it around running with it, then started blowing on it and then kicked it with his feet. as i was coming over to yell that we don't play with sticks i heard him saying "then i'll huff, and i'll puff, and i'll BLOW your house down"

he wasn't actually going to attack anyone with the stick, run with it, or hurt anyone. he was pretending to be in another fairy tale. then he threw mulch to stimulate the house blowing over. none of this is ok behavior, but i was fascinated that his imagination was in such high-gear. so i figured- why yell at him and break his mood when i can just redirect the behavior? if you can't beat 'em- join 'em.

i stepped into his story myself as the little pigs. we acted it out over and over again "little pig, little pig..." "no! not by the hair!".... until a girl who was in his kindergarten class came over.

"can i play?" she asked. he barely noticed her, but she joined me as a fellow pig a few times before suggesting to him that we do another story- how about the little red hen. slowly as we acted out every fairy tale we knew we were joined by children from other classes- children i'd never met before. some kids came and watched us, clapping at the end of each story.

in the end we had four gingerbread men in some stories, two goldilocks, and multiple big bad wolfs. we even did a rendition of knuffle bunny. slowly the other children and i got tired and we all fell off, leaving just my bff to begin reciting green eggs and ham for me (he knows it all- the whole thing. and poor guy was so frustrated that i didn't know the part of sam).

it was a fantastic experience for him- he was playing- really interacting with imaginative play- with his peers. and they weren't looking at him like he was crazy. it wasn't pity play- it was "what a great idea! let's do it this way!" play.

i watched autism, the musical, the other day and found myself getting teary eyed thinking of my bff. he would love to be a part of something like that. he has so much promise even if it's not "typically developing" promise. what ways can we find for him to thrive outside traditional school?

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Go Britian

Spelling has always, always been my downfall, and I think the i before e rule with all its exceptions with neighbor and weigh brought me to tears as a kid.

So this made me feel validated.

Monday, June 22, 2009

acting out cycle part 2 (occasions of pulling my hair out)

I went into so much detail about the acting out cycle yesterday because I feel like understanding it has made my job 100 times easier. Some of it goes against my initial instinct- which is why I think it's good for me to refresh my memory every once and awhile. When a child is in the acceleration cycle and is begging to be engaged through behavior that makes us want to pull our hair out- our initial instinct is to fix the problem, engage with the student, and make everything look perfect. Sometimes this has the opposite effect.

One of my little ones this year threw incredible tantrums. If we were paying close attention we were able to catch her in the agitation state and distract her. We had a basket of notes that sat on my desk. When we noticed she'd start spinning on the carpet, looking like she was going to lay down and start kicking her feet, we'd ask her to take a note to one of our principals. She and a friend would grab a pre-written note and go for a walk to give her a break and a chance away from the stimulation. At other times we'd "accidentally" knock over a basket of books and ask her to pick it up to distract her. Of course, we did this knowing if you walked into our classroom, saw a little girl not sitting perfectly on the carpet and then notice that we say, "Oh, little one, go for a walk" you'd think we were idiots. The natural reaction is to tell her to sit criss cross apple sauce like everyone else or she's in big trouble. But if we did that (which of course, sometimes we did, because frustration gets the best of everyone), we were in for a lot of fun...

if we didn't catch her in the agitation stage, or tried to tell her to shape up and be good, she'd begin kicking her feet, spread her body out over the carpet to engage other students, bury her head under her arms, and begin a low moaning sound. And if we tried to engage her- get her to stop, get angry with her, give her consequences, "get up RIGHT now!"- it would only get worse. The low moans would become louder and instead of just kicking the air she'd choose a noisier item to kick (the oven door in the house keeping center worked fabulously for this- it's loud slap echoed all over the room). Eventually we learned to move her into the hallway and put up a sign above her head that read, "Hi, I'm working on pulling myself back together right now. My teachers know I am out here. If I am bothering your class please go get my teachers. They know my shoes might not be on and that is ok. Please don't give me the attention I want so much right now!" In the midst of a quiet tantrum she wouldn't notice we put the sign up, but without it other teachers would walk by and decide to do what comes natural- tell her to put her shoes back on, tell her to stop screaming, sit up, etc. For many kids this works. For her- it only made her scream louder, or in one incident, throw a shoe at the teacher's head.

We also came up with the sign of putting our pinky in the air to tell each other we knew about the behavior and had chosen to ignore it (the American sign language sign for the letter I- i for ignore). This also helped so we could silently communicate to each other and our two aides that it was not a time to engage her.

For some kids I've worked with it was easy to figure out what the trigger for their behavior was. For others, (like this little girl) I felt like I could recognize the signs in the agitation stage, but never really figured out what sent her there. It seemed to happen around unexpected changes in routine, but then also if we sat on the rug too long (too much auditory input?) With her I never felt I was good at stopping her behavior and preventing the trigger.

I think my biggest challenge with the acting out cycle is communicating to the rest of my coworkers what's working and what's not with certain students. I don't want to put out a staff news email that says, "When you notice this kid in the hallway, please just walk past" because it feels wrong, but sometimes, when I watch a well meaning co-worker engage a student in the acceleration stage, and then watch the tantrum unfold in fury before us- I wish I could go back and write that email. Maybe next year I'll share my little pinky symbol of "ignore" with the everyone...
Reflections, reflections, reflections...

Sunday, June 21, 2009

acting out cycle- part 1

still studying for comps- bare with me through these last few days as I use the blog to sort through my thoughts...

I've dug through my old binders (part of preparing for a comprehensive exam at the end of a masters program is that you have to keep ALL of your coursework from the last 2 years in preparation for this test) and found articles by Geoffrey Colvin (Colvin, Sugai, & Patching, 1993- and I didn't even have to look at my notes to cite that one!). Reading over these articles makes me realize how much I have tried to internalize Colvin's work, and how much I use it almost every day.

In both my class on emotional disabilities and my class on behavior management we focused quite a bit on Colvin's acting out behavior model- a 7 phase graph that shows the different stages a student goes through with escalated behavior.

It begins with the calm stage, where, obviously, we'd ideally like all of our children to be all the time. Children in the calm stage follow the rules, stay on task, respond to praise, and are generally cooperative.

Phase two is the trigger- something that sets off something inside of them to turn them from no longer being the calm cooperative child. A child's trigger could be a conflict, a change in routine, when they are provoked (either by the teacher or by another student, on purpose, or on accident), pressure, interruptions, or errors. Figuring out a student's trigger is a huge step into managing their behavior. However, the trigger may happen every morning when getting ready for school, or at dinner the night before- we can't always control or observe the trigger behavior.

Phase three is the agitation stage when, after the trigger, there is a decrease or increase in an unwanted behavior. If there is an increase the student's eyes may dart around the room, use non-conversational language, have busy hands, and be in and out of groups. If the student's behavior decreases he or she may stare into space, have subdued language, withdraw from groups or appear frozen. The behavior, either increase or decrease, is generally unfocused. The agitation state can last for awhile- many students come to us in the morning already in the agitation state. (Why I love having my desk in a classroom- I can see the kids when they come into the classroom first thing and get a read on things. Are my little ones with anger issues having a good morning, or have they already been set off by something outside of my control?)

Knowing what a student's behaviors are in the agitation state is important, because this is your opportunity to reduce the behavior and get the student back on track. Last year I watched one of my student's carefully and began to realize the difference between him in the calm and the agitation state- then I was able to watch for what triggered the change in the behavior- and discovered it happened any time he didn't know what was going on. If he'd been out of the room and suddenly came back in and the class was doing something different he'd start his attention seeking behaviors. His voice would become high pitched, his eyes would dart around the room, and he'd start petting his friends. Realizing that his behavior changed because he was unsure of what to do his teacher and I were able to work with him on asking for help, and how to watch other people for social cues. After some social skills training his tantrums were FAR reduced, simply because we'd taken good notes on his agitation behavior to learn his trigger.

The next step is acceleration, when the student actively attempts to engage you or others in provoking behaviors. The student may argue, be non-compliant or defiant, provoke other students, whine, cry, show avoidance or escape behaviors, or verbal abuse others. When a student reaches this step it's your chance to NOT let it go any further. The student's goal is to engage you, and once you're engaged you've already lost-you've given the kid control. Which of course is the hardest thing not to do, because when a child is refusing to comply, yelling mean things at you, or arguing with you, the first instinct we have is to show this kid whose boss. Especially if other teachers are watching. But the minute we do that we've lost- the kid's behavior will only get worse.

The next stage is the Peak stage, when a child is literally out of control- tantrums, running, screaming, hyperventilation, self abuse, or physical abuse. And that this stage it's important to have a good network of people in the building to help you- remove the other students, call the office for help, make sure the student isn't going to hurt you or him/herself, and let them work through what's going on. The best way for you to get hurt is to interfere with a student who is in the peak stage- Some children lose complete control when they are here, and they wont settle down until they've worked through it.

De-escalation is the next stage- when a student is coming out of the peak stage. The student may be confused, withdrawn, blame others, sleep, but slowly respond to directions. This isn't a good time to talk to the child about what just happened- it can send them back to the acceleration or agitation stage. let the student cool off- give them a simple job to do (pick up the chairs he or she threw), give them space, tell them to write about what happened, etc.

Finally, when the student is in the recovery stage, you can talk to the student about what happened, de-brief, apply the consequences, establish a plan for the future.

** ** **
I'm off to play in the sun- enough studying, or psuedo-studying. I have far more I want to say about this, but it will have to wait.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

fury (warning- soapbox moment)

I'm studying for the comprehensive exam I have to take to earn my masters degree and I started googling around to fact-check some of the information I am studying. One article I read last summer mentioned the High Scope Perry Project from the mid 1960s. I wanted to have more exact dates than "the 1960s" so I looked it up.

The article I read said good things about it- what I have found on the Internet says even better things. The project (which took place between 1962 and 1967) studied two groups of African-American 3 and 4 year olds from low-income families. One group attended a comprehensive preschool program that included education, health, and family support. The other group did not. The researchers have tracked the participants over their life times- the most recent study done when the participants reached the age of 40. The results (to me) are astounding. At age 5 the students who participated in the preschool program had a higher IQ than those who did not. At 14 they were far more likely to have reached basic achievements, at 15 they were far more likely to turn in their homework. At 40 they were 20% more likely to earn 20k a year, and had less arrests than those who did not attend preschool.

The website links to a juvenile justice report where the courts look at this study as an answer to juvenile crimes.

A 1993 study states that the program saved the taxpayers $88,433 per participant. This savings came from a reduced amount of students in the special education program, higher taxes paid by the participants because they had higher earnings, savings in welfare assistance, and savings in the juvenile and general courts. The original cost per participant was $12,356 over the 2 years. The study states this provided the tax payers with a return of $7.16 on the dollar.

But I can't read this and feel joy. This study has been in the works for YEARS now. And where are we? Most of the kindergarten students who will walk in my door on August 5th will not have any preschool experience. We know it works, we know how to help these children and save money, but we've done nothing about it.

This is not the only study out there that shows early interventions save the tax payers money and increase the outcomes of student achievement. The Carolina Abecedarian Project is another study which found that early intervention saved $100,00 per child through less money spent on special education, welfare, and juvenile crime. This study was written up in 1994.

And there are others. We KNOW early intervention works. We KNOW it not only saves money in the long run, but it helps children come out of poverty, reduces the dependency on welfare, and improves academic growth. In fact, it probably does more to close the achievement gap and leave no child behind than any assessment measured curriculum we teach in elementary schools.

So WHY will the students that come to my school on August 5th not have any preschool experience?

I personally blame the delayed gratification. Any politician who puts an early intervention program in place will be long out of office by the time we see the savings. Even a young governor who is hoping to one day run for president isn't going to jump at starting a full scale early intervention program. Right when he's ready to run for higher office the tax payers will be upset about the money spent on preschool for the poor because no one will have seen the results yet. And how do you convince a politician to spend money now so that years and years down the line we'll see the results?

now that I'm all good and angry I will go back to studying....

Friday, June 19, 2009

name game

my name, obviously, is not mrs. lipstick. my married name is somewhat close to lipstick, and all the children think that is actually my name. a parent earlier this year told me she thought that when her daughter told her about mrs. lipstick it was because her daughter had made up an imaginary teacher as a way to cope in kindergarten.

i don't even wear lipstick, so it's not actually that fitting of a name. and it makes me unfairly popular with the high-school musical girls, which is not a group i would ever have run with in my own days of elementary school. i was far more of a tree climbing girl myself.

however, the other day, out at kiss and ride, i'd just finished lecturing a student on being safe and not running into traffic. a little girl (maybe second grade?) came up to me and asked me my name. she looked a bit confused and repeated back,

"mrs. upset?"

mrs. lipstick is a far better pseudonym than mrs. upset. is that really how i come off when at kiss and ride? yikes!


When I went to deliver the letters I'd written to my 6 former first graders-now graduating 5th graders, one of the fifth grade teachers handed me letters two of her students had written me.

Dear Mrs. Lipstick,
Thank you for being my 1st grade Teacher. You no I got in trouble a lot but I was a little boy. My BEST memory of 1st grade is when we go to read at dark and draw.

(I don't remember him getting in trouble that much- although I do remember him as the reason I always put up word wall words in the bathroom- he'd go in there forever and told me "sometimes I just need a break". Well, if you need a break, then you're still going to be learning. You can go sit on the toilet, but you will be staring at those high frequency words. Also, I think the reading in the dark is from a day the lights went out- no great instruction on my part)

Dear Mrs. Lipstick,
A long time ago when you teach me in 1st grade and I was new to this school and contry you taught me so many new things I never knew before and you also help me made friends. Thank you for helping me in Jumpers. Your the teacher I'll never forget.

She's my little one who came into the country with no English from Indonesia- a week before the Tsunami. We came back from Christmas break and couldn't communicate with her and her family to know if their family back home was alright. I adore this little one- she is the student I'll never forget.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

stream of consciousness from the last day

And so it ended with rainy kiss and ride duty, lost report cards, last minute frantic parent-teacher conferences, and lots of packed boxes. I have already built myself a nest of research articles, text books, and study guides in my basement to help me study for the comps I'm scheduled to take next Wednesday (wish me luck). My stack of read-for-pleasure books is calling to me from over in the corner and my new addiction to The Wire is working hard at keeping me from studying. (I blame Mr. Lipstick for explaining how to use the HBO on-demand feature on Tuesday night- right before my cramming study sessions were meant to begin).

The last day of school was about as much of a whirl-wind as the first. We kept our kindergartners busy by having them decorate the boxes we'd packed our classroom supplies in. They took the job quite seriously and made sure the boxes were colorful and plastered with stickers. "Oh no!" we kept saying. "Here's another box without any color- we'd better get someone to help us with this one". Our helpers glowed with pride at their finished work.

My bff (how much longer can I say that before he is someone else's bff?) decided that he didn't want to watch movies the last 2 days, but instead wanted to write stories. Yes, my friends, how many writing workshops this year ended with thrown papers- but now, when the option is for watching movies, he'd rather write? Just telling us, once again, where we can stick our stupid school structure. He came into our kindergarten class and wrote his stories on the back of paper meant for the trash- the paper we'd written morning messages on throughout the year. Kindergartners gathered around him to help him spell the words- and my bff managed to conduct a more engaging interactive-writing lesson than we ever did this year.

I'd found pictures of this year's graduating fifth graders when they were six and in my first grade class. Their big eyes of wonder holding worms, bugs, clutching a stuffed animal, reading a big book, getting in the way of the camera. From that class there were only six students left at our school, so I was able to write each of them a letter about how proud I was of them and give them pictures of their days of learning to read. It was wonderful to see their parents at the promotion ceremony- some parents I had not seen in four years. If I'm honest they were my favorite class- the year that everything came together smoothly- when the things that were suppose to work actually did.

My co-teachers and I ended the day with promises to get together this summer to "dream" about next year- a chance during these short five weeks to think big so we can later figure out the logistics to make it happen. I've already planned the first few weeks of school with my old kindergartners (soon to be first graders) in my head- where we'll start off from where we left, what new game they're ready for. I love keeping the same children for two years in a row. I have all summer to use what I know about their skills to plan and adapt a curriculum to get us reading with aggression :)

Tuesday, June 16, 2009


today was a less than fabulous day. in fact, it was about as far from fabulous as one can get. even still- it had moments that reminded me how lucky i am to have such an amazing job.

** ** **
my bff and i ran into some people he hadn't met before. after asking their names and sharing his (he has impeccable manners) he said, "and this is mrs. lipstick" pointing to me. "she's very nice, and a very good teacher".

can you ask for anything more?

** ** **

Friday, June 12, 2009

so many books, so little time

Don't get me wrong- I love your service. I love that you send us updates when we exceed our budget and you nicely manage all of our finances. It's great- really.

But perhaps today you could not send out the 'You exceeded your shopping budget this month' email to both me and my husband. I know what happened. Let's just keep it between us, yes?

I've been so good for so long. I've kept my book habit under control. It's been hard- don't get me wrong. To walk into a book store and run my fingers along the titles- the new releases- the paperback favorites. But in the mass bookstores I manage some control. (Even if Mr. Lipstick doesn't believe it)

Last night I ventured back to the place of my old bad habits. The independent bookstore I've spent many paychecks. Just opening the door gave me a little thrill. Being back. I became intoxicated with my old ways. I lost control. Fell off the wagon. My young carefree days of being young in the city came back to me in a wave. How was I suppose to control that? I use to be able to walk there from my city apartment- pop over to hear whatever author was speaking at 7pm, for coffee, for book browsing. And in those days I wasn't married. One can hide a habit like this when one is just dating. Before combined bank accounts. And a mortgage. And trip planning. And car payments and bathroom remodeling. Before a budget. I love my life now- wouldn't change it for anything- but last night just brought back too much.

I know, I am suppose to grow up. I am suppose to realize that I cannot have every book I see. I know what a library is. But you see, the library near me is horrid (lots of computers and dvds- no books) so how am I suppose to contain myself, really?

and the books I bought- I needed those books. One on play from an author I heard speak earlier this year. Another on attachment disorder. You know how curious I am about attachment disorder- and how I'm always looking for resources. And another just tales of teaching. I need the inspiration. These aren't books I can buy at your average bookstore. These are books one can only find hidden on those shelves of that store. And summer is coming- I need books for summer, right?

So, I promise not to do it again. Really. It was a one time thing. I will be stronger. Wiser. Pay my library fines. Let's just forgive this little incident, yes?

Or perhaps you can suggest a readers anonymous I can join, just in case?

Thursday, June 11, 2009


I found myself saying multiple times today, "Wow I wish we'd realized this earlier in the year!" as my co-teachers and I watched our children positively react to the less structured activities-the more child-led activities where we, as their teachers, simply follow the children's lead in order to teach.

Right when I thought miracles were not possible, I went into my kindergarten class at the end of the day. While they finished cleaning up from free choice they were being sent to the carpet. They'd had a sub all day and by the end of the day the sub and the class aid looked exhausted from trying to hold them together. Yet somehow, as the students gathered on the rug together, one of them grabbed the book "Brown Bear, Brown Bear" and held it open while the others read it together.

It was a moment of beauty. I don't think we've actually achieved a productive shared reading lesson this year. Yet when we weren't in charge- no adult to tell them what to do or remind them to not get water, to pay attention, to sit in their spot- they spontaneously created a lesson we weren't able to create as their teachers. They huddled around the book as they read, not pushing or arguing over who sat where (really, are they are kids??). They listened when one had an idea "let's read this page again!" and did it without arguing. One little boy realized they were reading the wrong words and the class patiently waited while he tried to read the correct words- helping him when they could- and then re-read together what he'd read.

It was magic.

Not wanting to break the spell I tapped them one by one on the shoulder so they could pack up. For possibly the first time all year they hurried to the coat closet, took their bookbag, and hurried back to the rug without saying a word. Finally, when I could put it off no more (and they'd read the book 3 times) I stopped them and told them it was time to line up for the buses. I must have apologized when I stopped them because the little girl who was clearly the leader of this said, "it's ok Mrs. Lipstick- we can do it again tomorrow!" Is this the same little girl who had stuck her tongue out at me earlier that day and who controlled other girls in the class with her mean words?

I had goose bumps watching their cooperation, teamwork, respect for one another, and their reading skills. Who knew in a non-teacher directed activity they could bring so much to the table? If only this event had happened in March- we realize we could have been using more child-led activities to drive their instruction- letting them be the leaders- taking away from the constant power struggles we've had with the little ones who have conflicts with authority.

In another of my classes Jenny is working on a class garden. She's let them loose with trowels and gardening tools on a patch of land at our school and is currently just letting them play in the dirt under the name of gardening. It's truly magic. They've learned more during this "play time" than we could have taught them. They are forced to use team work to dig holes and pull out weeds and rocks, in a way that team building activities don't naturally create. They're learning about science and worms and common sense (and how do you teach that?) As we watched one little girl with some significant anger issues attack a patch of land we just thought about how this activity was perfect for her at this moment- she was participating with the group but could separate herself if she needed to work individually. She had the power of choice in many ways, and also had a healthy outlet for her aggression. We chatted about how we wished we'd been doing this earlier in the year.

How come now that instruction is behind us and we're filling our time with loosely structured activities we're now realizing ways we could have been better teachers? Think we've been so focused on routine, structure, and learning objectives we lost sight of the best way to teach those objectives?

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

5 more days

i sat down to write a coherent blog post and halfway through realized it made no sense and was going in about 5 different directions. i am brain dead and exhausted. for at least 2 of my kids we've decided it's the end of the year- there is no use forcing them to spend time in their classrooms when it will most likely end badly. i spent a lot of time walking up and down the hallways today with my little friends. a lot of time spent doing odd projects with my little friends to keep them busy and out of their teacher's hair. we only have to make it 5 more days. if they're given the choice to watch a movie or to help me sort books and they choose sorting books- well, i think they understand the fact that if they're in their room they'll only get in trouble.

i'm usually very sad at the end of the year. i'm not always good with change and i usually get nostalgic. and i will miss these kids. i've worked with many awesome kiddos this year and i've been so lucky. but i'm tired.

it may be because i spent our 5 week break last summer taking 3 grad school classes so i never really relaxed. i went into the grad school stressed from the school year, and into the school year stressed from grad school. so maybe my body is just ready for a real rest this summer.

our school's population is popping at the seams and as the economy crashes we've been dealing with families losing their jobs- children who bring to school the concerns of the family's finances. kids have been going back to "their countries" left and right. which is hard to watch, because you know they came to america for hope. they brought in their pictures of their houses back home- and you know they're not going back to the same standard of living we think everyone deserves in america. we've watched their parents cry as they take them out of school for the last time.

so it's been a long year. this may be the first year i am feeling completely ready for it to end. not because i feel i've succeeded with my kids- i still feel like i have miles and miles of work to do with them- but perhaps because i realize i don't have the energy to do it right now.

5 more days.

it's 7 o'clock and i think i'm off to bed.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Amen! (but it doesn't matter...)

In the outlook section of today's Washington Post Brigid Schulte writes about how much her children love the modified calendar schedule. She discusses all the ways it's great for academics, how refreshing it is for her children to learn creativity in school, and how the "problem students" tend not to be problem students during intersession. All of this is true, true, true. Amen, Amen, Amen.

She also writes about the districts who are getting rid of modified calendar schools due to the budget crisis. We're one of those districts. I've been too depressed about it to even write about it. We have one more year with our calendar and then it's back to the traditional schedule. I can't even begin to discuss how sad I am by this. Like Schulte says in her article, we're not losing our calendar because it's not valuable. We're losing it because of the budget.

I love the Post's article, and feel that Schulte hits on many of the benefits of our current calendar from a middle-class perspective (I know everything I've written on the subject has been from the perspective of how it benefits our children in poverty).

Part of me wants to send copies of this article to everyone working with the Superintendent, and everyone on the School Board in hopes of changing their minds. But sadly, our battle for keeping our calendar is over.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

all knowing... & other bff stories

On Thursday the first grade team had a planning day so I was away from my kiddos all day. As I walked down the hallway during dismissal I could hear some sort of tussle happening in the library. As I glanced in, my bff screamed "no! not Mrs. Lipstick!" and ran further into the library. "She'll know about the computer! Get away Mrs. Lipstick. Get away!"

Children and adults stared at me as though I'd caused him physical harm. On Friday children came up to me and asked why he was so scared of me. I was embarrassed, but mostly confused at why he was screaming and running away from me when I hadn't seen him all day.

Apparently he'd spent a joyful day going to youtube and downloading veggietales videos to watch with both his classroom teacher and me out of the room. Knowing this was against the rules, and somehow believing I KNEW what he had done, he flipped at the mere sight of me.

I love that he believes I know everything.
Piaget's stages of development are developing a bit slower than average, but who needs average anyway?

*** *** ***
Yesterday was indoor field day and my bff was feeling just as unexcited about the loud noise in the gym as teachers. He looked at me and pulled a fake cough "I'm too sick for the gym" he told me over and over again. We agreed that he'd go and try it and if he needed to leave all he had to do was tell me and we'd go.

He actually did a fantastic job and participated in all but 2 of the races. One was the sack race, where he got into the sack and then decided it wasn't for him. (I was impressed he tried). The other was the spoon race. He watched in horror as his friends did this and when it was his turn he yelled, "NO!! SPOONS ARE FOR EATING!"

True. Can't argue with that one.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

advice from a third grader

my smart cookie and i were hanging out before i had to administer the state test to her. we were chatting about the crazy storm last night (and comparing how our animals reacted to the thunder and lightening).

then i told her that i'd had to go pick mr. lipstick because he'd been trying to play softball on the mall and had gotten really, really wet. i had to bring a towel for him to sit on because he was so wet from the rain.

she looked at me and snorted. "i would have told him to ride the bus"

mr. lipstick, aren't you lucky that i don't take advice from her?

Wednesday, June 3, 2009


today, the new behavior plan no longer had its novel magic. i think it still worked, but today was far from perfect. perhaps i blogged too soon.

10 more days.

two weeks from today i'll be sipping a margaretta and thinking about my 5 weeks of summer break (and starting to panic about the comps i have yet to study for).

today i told my bff when he yelled in my ear it gave me a headache. he touched my forehead and said, "this what hurts?" and made hand motions as though he was unscrewing my head. he pulled my brain out, showed it to me (silently), then mimed massaging it, smashing it, putting water in it, and then acted out re-inserting it into my head.

wait! he said. i forgot the rainbow.

he took out my imagery brain and blew in the imaginary rainbow. once again he pushed my "brain" back into my head and closed it up.

he sighed, with his eyes toward the sky.

isn't that a beautiful rainbow? he asked. now you'll see rainbows all the time.

i couldn't help myself. i looked up, following his eyes to the blank spot in the air above our heads. i signed as well. thank you. i said. it is a beautiful rainbow.

desperate times

Last Friday after returning from the office where one of my little ones was being suspended, I looked out at the kindergarten room where my desk is and thought, "There is not a chance I'm going to make it to June 17th. Not a chance". If it was earlier in the school year, I thought, this kind of behavior would warrant a whole new behavior plan. But why now, with two and a-half weeks left?
But then I looked out again and decided, we're desperate. So my amazing co-teacher and I came up with a plan that really will only work for 2 and half weeks.
We have a "race track" where every student has a car. They've colored their cars and names themselves (they had the option of drawing their own cars, but every child picked the car I'd printed out for them- that's going in the wrong direction. I think the fact that all of our cars are going in the wrong directions is slightly symbolic of the year...)
The race track has mile markers and whenever your car hits a mile marker you get a note home telling your parents what an awesome job you did. The notes are pre-printed for teacher ease, we just have to put their names on them and then have the child draw a picture of what they were doing well to get their car moved ahead.
Cars move whenever the driver is following the teacher's directions or sitting quietly. If they get out of control and need to go to the pit to visit the mechanic, they go down to the crash-zone. Nothing happens to the driver, the car just goes into time out. Yet the children are still devastated when their car moves down (moreso than when we put the actual driver in time out. Somehow putting children in the "thinking spot" in our room has turned into a chance for them to be clowns, kick things, or take control of the classroom in their own little way. When their car is in time out they really don't have that opportunity). When the driver shows us one of the two magic behaviors, the car moves back to where it was before on the track. There's no going back or starting over- just a quick time out.
So far (after two days) it's been working. The kids are obsessed with the idea of the race and seem to love taking their notes home to their parents. A trip to the crash zone typically stops the undesired behavior, even more than putting the child in the thinking spot in the classroom. For some kids it is excellent because it really only focuses on the positive. They can track their individual progress and seem to be working on complying even when the group is not so that their car can be on track.
We'll see how it goes. It only has to last 2 more weeks. We've told them that we're happy to add more paper and make the race track go much longer if we need to and they're excited to "take their cars to the coat closet". I'm not sure it's the type of behavior plan that could be used throughout the year, but for this time in the year when you just need a little something extra to motivate them, so far it seems to be exactly what we needed.

Monday, June 1, 2009

things that work

12 more days. 12. and 3 of those are half days. we can survive.

As we're getting closer to the end I feel like I'm reflecting on what's worked this year, and what hasn't. One of the more drastic changes I made this year was moving my desk from the special ed office into one of my classrooms. When I first mentioned this idea to my AP she smiled in that "that's cute" kind of way and said she thought it was a great idea, but that maybe I should keep space upstairs in the sped office just in case I change my mind, especially since the room I was moving into was a K classroom.

However, I have LOVED this arrangement. Having my desk in the K room has let me have a classroom community, which I really missed having last year. But even more importantly, it lets me fully understand the nature and culture of the class. It's hard to come in and out of a class and really know the dynamics. In my own classroom the community was such that it was the down moments- when children were coming in for the day, children were reading books for pleasure, or transitioning to centers, where I not only got to know kids, but had opportunities for teachable moments. Just coming into a classroom for a set time every day doesn't give you that opportunity. With my desk in the room I've been able to be there when the children get there and see them leave. I see whose come in with new shoes, whose had a rough morning at home, and whose excited to share about their weekend.
I also have more chances to observe how the children interact with each other and with the teacher. I've gotten a whole new perspective on the classroom by having my desk in there but not being the number 1 teacher.

Of course, collaboration-wise it's been a dream. We can toss ideas off one another freely, laugh about what doesn't work, and then come up with another idea the next day. To be honest, sometimes we are bad about planning for academics together and making time to actually sit down and plan. But the on-the-go planning has worked really well for both of us.

I don't think this model would work for everyone. In some ways I work better in a louder environment and I am very good at zoning out noise when I have to. And there have been times I've had to take my computer and get my special ed paperwork done in a quieter place. My co-teacher and I also have an incredible working relationship. We have similar teaching philosophies and are both open to new ideas. We're also both very reflective and are totally open with "wow, that didn't work, what should we do next?" She's been awesome at openly listening to my crazy ideas and telling me it wont work, or trying it and then revising it. It's very much been a relationship of collaborating and sharing ideas instead of a my idea/ her idea/ my kids/ your kids.

It's been an awesome experience. I loved my job before, but this was such a great change. I have my fingers crossed that they'll let us continue to do it next year!

competition, motivation, & self worth

this year i've been working with a small group of 10 third grade students who were identified by their teachers as needing extra help in math. they come before school for about 40 minutes of extra support time. they, of course, have no idea this is remediation, and think they were hand selected to be a part of the exclusive club for their high interest in math.

in the beginning i'd have different games for us to play that supported our math skills, but as time went on we've become more and more obsessed with the game make 10. it's a simple game i played with my first graders. we use a stack of "ten grid" cards. each card has a number on it, and in the middle there is a grid of 10 boxes- five on each side. the number of dots in the grid matches the number on the card. to play make ten each person takes a turn flipping a card over. when you see that you can add the numbers up to make ten (6 + 2+ 2) you take them. the winner is the one with the most cards. the great thing about this game with the ten grid cards is that they are able to use the visual of the ten grid to manipulate the numbers in different ways. this was hugely popular in first grade and i started using it in the beginning of this year as a way to work on getting our 10 facts quickly.

they loved it, but as it became too easy for them we switched to making 11, 12, 15, 18, or any number they chose. then, on a whim, i suggested that they use subtraction in their equations as well (the cards 10, 8, 7 would win because 10 + 8 -7=11). they LOVED this. suddenly kids who'd only been partially involved in the game were flying. i have to stay on the edge of my seat when i watch them play and make them say the equations they're coming up with- but usually they're correct. they have become very competitive, and many children will gather around to watch one game.

we recently added multiplication as an option (6x2=12 so that counts in making 12). i've been amazed not just at their interest in playing this game, but also the way they're able to manipulate the numbers quickly to make their equation. some of them have memorized their facts so they can quickly grab 7+4, 5+6 to make 11, and others are great at grouping numbers together (always going for the 2+2 as a for, or 2+3 as a 5 as a strong base number to play off of). they will quickly tell me their current equation as their eyes scan the floor looking for the next way to make 11.

part of me feels like i've just been preparing them for vegas (we do this very vegas style- the "flipper" aka dealer flips the cards out so there are 6-8 cards on the board. then as soon as the kids take the cards on the board the flipper puts new ones out. the cards snap down on the ground and then snap back into the children's hands faster than i can sometimes do the math. there is a crowd standing around them, cheering them on, and quickly doing the math themselves, eager to point out wrong equations.

i feel like i've learned a lot as a teacher as i've watched this game develop with this group.

competition with a chance of success- i usually stay away from the competition, but with this group it was the perfect motivator. plus, this is a group of kids who would probably lose the game again and again if they played it in their own classroom. in our small group where we are all around the same level, everyone pretty much has a chance to win. suddenly there is a point in trying because there is the possibility of winning.

motivation -this group needed motivation to come before school 2 days a week, so just giving them remediation worksheets, or even making them play games i chose wasn't going to be as exciting. i feel that i really paid attention to the games they were interested in and found ways to make them harder, instead of forcing them to play games that i thought they should be playing.

scaffolding-the competition element, along with their self-interest, really did speed up their math fluency. i took all of my cues from them, which led me to know when to add a twist to the game, and when to give us more time. because of this they pushed themselves so that i didn't have to push them. some math facts you just have to memorize so you can solve harder math problems. some of the kids would come in with a sheet where they'd written all the different ways to make 15. they wanted to know them so they wouldn't have to do the math on their fingers because that takes too long. even if this group doesn't do well on the sol tests (but i'm praying that they will...) i feel like i helped scaffold them from being finger-counters to being able to manipulate numbers more freely.