Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Mindset and Students with Intellectual Disabilities

Carol Dweck's Mindset is a book frequently pushed in the "gifted and talented" teacher circles, or the "advanced academics". The teachers who work with the "gifted" kids tend to read Mindset in their teachers as readers groups since it addresses how we praise smart kids. It applies to all kids, of course, but it is easiest to see where it fits with the smartest students- the best and the brightest kids who often get told how smart they are, because, well, according to the bell curve they are off the charts.

As I read it this time, however, I found myself thinking about how much it applied to the students I work with this year- students with intellectual disabilities.

First and foremost it reminds us that intelligence is not set in stone. Hard work, dedication, and determination can change anyone's "intelligence". By teaching our students to work hard and giving them strategies to use when they fail we can help them to achieve more than their "intellectual disability" label implies for them. The idea behind the growth mindset reminds us why we set high standards- because we cannot predict how any one person in our classrooms will do on any one task. 

The second reminder is that it shows us the importance of teaching strategies. Our children need to have strategies in place for when they fail. It will happen a lot in their lifetime, and they need to be able to push up their sleeves and believe that they can overcome the failure. Knowing that they can do hard things is essential for their success in life. I am frequently asking my students, "Was it hard?" and then when they tell me yes, saying, "I know! Isn't it great that we can do hard things!" 

Teaching them to be problem solvers is also essential. Encouraging them to look at a situation and decide how to get help is what will serve them the most in life. Doing things for them, allowing them to be helpless, always having a chair appear out of nowhere when they need to sit down- those are things that will never help our students become self advocates. We have to directly teach our students how to succeed- how to look around and determine what they need, how to pick themselves up when they make a mistake, and how to embrace hard tasks.

If we teach our students determination there is little that they will not be able to do.

When I was a general education teacher I centered my entire year around the question "what is a problem solver". It was amazing to watch the growth I saw in the children's ability to problem solve throughout the year. I need to figure out a way to make that happen again with this population of students.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Reflections on Mindset

In re-reading Carol Dweck's book, Mindset, I find myself thinking of how lucky I am to have been raised in a growth-mindset house. The first time I read her book I got through the first chapter and called my mother to thank her. Everything Dweck was saying rang true because it was how I was raised.

We had a family friend we'll call Dave. Dave was brilliant, my brothers and I were always told. My mother always spoke of Dave in a hushed, reverent tone- he was absolutely, positively brilliant. One of the smartest people we'll ever meet. Nothing was ever hard for Dave. Growing up everything had been easy for him. This was his greatest downfall. He never learned to work hard at anything, never learned how to study or what to do when he failed. Poor Dave was just too smart. Whenever I was frustrated with how difficult math was, or a low grade I got on a test, my mother would bring up Poor Dave.

"You know", she'd point out, "Poor Dave got 100's on all of his tests. But look at him now- he hates his job. He doesn't know how to work hard to change his job, so instead he does the same thing over and over again. He's scared to try hard and fail so he just stays where he is. He doesn't take risks. School was easy for him but he never got to learn what you're learning right now- he never learned how to work hard or how to try. Aren't you lucky", my mom would say, "you will grow up knowing how to work hard and you won't be scared to take risks."

Poor Dave, I grew up thinking. Poor Dave never had a chance to fail.

Looking back I am pretty sure that my mother made up half of the Poor Dave stories. But it worked. (That being said what I also took away from the Poor Dave stories was that Dave was smart, meaning that I was not. Smart people don't have to try, but since I had to try, I was not smart. This was OK because it meant that I was learning skills smart people didn't have. SO, I can't say I totally left childhood with a growth mindset. I had a "aren't you lucky you have to have a growth mindset" mindset. If I was smart I would have been in the "fixed" mindset category. I know, the more you think about it the more backwards it becomes...)

Regardless of how I felt about my own intelligence  I always knew that working hard and trying were essential life skills thanks to the Poor Dave stories. When I laminated about why I had to take calculus and wondered when I'd ever use it anyway, my mother would say that I wasn't actually learning math- I was learning how to think. In the process of learning math I was stretching my brain, which was far more beneficial than the actual math itself. It worked. I no longer did my homework for the purpose of trying to get a good grade, instead I was trying to stretch my brain.

In fact, some times I think I took the growth mindset to the extreme. Once something was easy for me or if I was good at it I stopped doing it- what is the purpose of doing something easy? If I'm good at it then what's the value? What am I getting out of it? I played the violin throughout high school even though I am essentially tone deaf. I ran cross country and distance track- both sports that you can only be successful in if you embrace perseverance. I selected a college that I knew would be hard for me- not just academically but would put me out of my comfort zone socially as well. Even in my career I find myself looking to move on once things get to be routine. I'm always looking for ways to make my job more challenging. I remember my last year as a general education teacher complaining that I just wasn't learning anything. Whether or not this is a good thing is up for debate, but it is who I am.

I think about how my mom's cautionary Poor-Dave tales impact the way I still view the world today and I hope I can do that for my daughter (although I will hopefully be alert to the smart/ not smart message I somehow took away from it). I'll have to find some other friend and make up my own Poor Dave stories.

Failure is important. Regardless of whether or not my mom made up Poor Dave stories, it was true. What a shame it would be to get to adulthood without knowing that you can better yourself with effort, that it is OK to take risks, and that failure is simply a stepping stone.

Put in, take out. Hard at work. 
In the age of standardized test scores it seems to be becoming harder and harder to communicate the importance of failure to our students. As a society we seem to be slowly slipping away from appreciating failure. The college students suing over bad grades? High schools that will not allow students to get an F? When did failure become the end instead of the beginning?

Saturday, February 23, 2013


On Friday I sat down with a group of kids for writing workshop, expecting the typical chaotic writing workshop that we've been experiencing. And yet...

They surprised me (these kids surprise me each and everyday so I don't know why I'm surprised by being surprised. Regardless...)

Now that we've worked on sequencing our board maker pictures enough they have the routine. They get what to do. They independently (or with less prompts than they normally need) cut out the words, sequenced the words on the paper in the right order, glued the words down, drew a picture to match their words, and wrote the words (in some cases they didn't need to trace the words- they were independently writing!)

It was one of those moments where you are scared to breath because you are worried that in one breath the whole beautiful event will blow away or come crumbling down.

It is amazing what happens.

I've worked hard on writing workshop this year, trying to maintain what I believe writing workshop should look like while meeting the needs of my students. It's working. Slowly but surely I'm seeing genuine progress. The connection between reading and writing, the ability to write words from the word wall, READ words from the word wall, sequence centers, enjoy books, interact with literacy- it is happening.

It was a long week and I'll admit, I'm not feeling overly good about our profession as a whole or my place in it. A friend recently commented that my blog makes her feel manic- and yeah, I know- that's how I feel I'm living- low lows and high highs. But this one moment- to see the progress, the small steps- the increase independence, pride and work skills- maybe something somewhere is working.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Getting a Thank You

I got a quick note from a parent today noting how hard the class must have worked on their valentines and how much the family appreciated it.

I must have read it three times to fully comprehend it. It is so rare to get a thank you like that- for something specific that also acknowledges how much work must have gone into it.

It was the highlight of my day. It's amazing what one small thank you can do.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Teaching Nightmare

I had a horrible nightmare last night.

I dreamed that my 18 month old daughter was a student in my class. And, just like everyone else in my class she was expected to be able to identify Virginia and Washington, DC on a map of America. So, I was sitting with her at the table where I do all my direct instruction. I had a map out and I was doing discrete trials over and over and over again until she was able to identify Virginia. Of course, being 18 months old, this was difficult for her. And ridiculous. In the dream she and I were both getting really frustrated. "Why can't she just point to the middle of the map on the east coast?" I wondered as she once again blindly smacked the map in the middle.

I woke up in a sweat. What was I doing? Why would I have a dream about torturing my daughter that way? She is 18 months old. Yes, when she is 5, 6, and 7 I will expect her to find VA on a map (well, I'll leave that up to her teacher because frankly, I don't see myself caring so much.)

Perhaps the dream came because I am simultaneously reading Mindset by Carol Dweck and How Children Succeed by Paul Tough (author of Whatever it Takes). In fact, right before I fell asleep I ordered my husband to take How Children Succeed out of my hands because otherwise I worried I'd read all night. Both books talk about the importance of how to fail and the development of non-cognitive skills- delayed gratification, putting in effort, the ability to set a plan and follow through, and the ability to persist through a difficult task.

On Friday I was chatting with one of my coworkers who is also a parent of a child with intellectual disabilities. "Why doesn't anyone ask me what I want my daughter to learn to be successful in life?" she asked. "I want her to be independent, able to care for herself, advocate for herself, and navigate shopping. I don't care if she can identify George Washington."

The thing is- I can teach the kids in my class to recognize Virginia on a map. I could probably teach my daughter too. The teaching part isn't hard when we do things that we know work for teaching kids with intellectual disabilities. It's the WHY. Unless I pair recognizing Virginia with these non-cognitive skills, unless I build up the ability for them to transfer the skill of recognizing Virginia in my classroom to recognizing Virginia on a map if they need to find their way home- the activity is useless. Yet I am being paid to teach them to recognize Virginia on a map. Your tax dollars are asking me to teach this information so that they can be tested on it later. Nowhere in my job description does it mention teaching non-cognitive skills- the very skills my students will desperately need to survive and be successfully independent.

So how do we bridge both skills? Making sure my students can do these rote skills while also giving them opportunities to develop delayed gratification, problem solving, and executive planning?

My dream left me with a sinking pit in my stomach, calling into question my pride on how my students are learning these repetitive state standards. I'm missing an important part of their education and it's time to start re-examining how I teach. (Sadly I'm not saying throw out the state standards- trust me, I will continue those facts- but I need to build in more problem solving and opportunities to learn and practice these non-cognitive skills)

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Guided Reading for Students with Intellectual Disabilities

This year has truly pushed me to examine my teaching practices to determine what can be adapted for students with intellectual disabilities. Sometimes I feel like I'm swimming upstream, but I'm enjoying the challenge.

I've played around with my writing workshop and have truly seen an impact on my students' abilities and literacy skills. That work naturally flowed straight into my guided reading lessons.

We suddenly had all these hand-made big books that almost all of my students could read independently. The one word per index card that we put on paper ourselves made the concept of one to one matching very easy to understand and follow. My students LOVE reading these big books. They know the words, whether from simply memory or because they are starting to recognize that 'w-e' is always the word we. Even those students who are non-verbal are starting to make utterances when they touch each index card.

I now start every guided reading lesson by reading a few of our big books. They are known, familiar texts that get us all revved up and ready to go.

Once I realized how well my students were doing with these big books I decided it was time to transfer these skills to actual published books. I very intentionally chose guided reading books from our school book room that had our familiar words and simple patterns in them.

I tried simply introducing these books but found that some of my students were still having trouble with one to one matching and transitioning from the index cards to the actual text. So, in a moment of desperation, I wrote the words of the book on the part of the sticky note that has the sticky backing. I cut them up and had the students match the words onto the page in the book.

First I have the students read the words on the sticky note pieces independently. We match the words, sort them, and do discrete trials with the words to make sure they are able to differentiate between the two words and have some understanding of them.

We write the words on the dry erase board, or trace them- whatever our ability is.

Next I introduce the book and do a book walk like I would if I was teaching a general education guided reading lesson. When it is time to say "Happy Reading" and hand off the books to the students I give them the sticky note pieces so they can match the words on each page. This forces one to one matching and helps them transfer the skills between the books we wrote, the words on the table, and the words in the book. It also helps reinforce the idea that we read left to right.

 They read by themselves, just like they would in a traditional guided reading setting, matching the sticky notes to the page, and reading it to themselves. Even the students who are non-verbal can match the words and then point to each word on the page.

When they are done I take the sticky notes out and they can put them in order without the book as a model, working on their sentence sequencing. And of course, they can read the book without matching the words.

Next, just like I would in a traditional guided reading book, we do work on comprehension and retelling the story. In this particular book the clowns are either happy or sad, so it was easy to quickly make happy and sad faces on sticky notes. The students then have two choices and can match the sticky notes with the page to show how the clown feels. This is working on our comprehension but also our vocabulary.

After that we can put those sticky notes in order to show how the clowns felt in the beginning, the middle, and the end.

Finally, just like in the gen ed classroom, my kids take their books to their book baskets so that they'll have them for independent reading. The sticky notes stay in the front of the book so that during independent reading they have to choice to match with the sticky notes or they can simply read the words themselves.

If I had time and money I'd spend a lot more time adapting these books. I could/should make boardmaker pictures that correspond with the books. If I had the money to buy an entire set of these books for my classroom I'd laminate them, velro them up and make everything more permanent than the sticky notes. But for now sticky notes are working just fine. They are quick and easy. The kids watch me write the words and then watch me cut them up just like Reading Recovery does with cut-up sentences. If words get lost it's not a big deal, and they stick on everything. Right now I'm having a love affair with sticky notes.

During independent reading I can take running records and note my students' reading behaviors. Are they adding in the sticky notes from left to right? Are they able to match the pictures with the right parts of the story? Do they match the right words? Can they read it without the sticky notes? Just like in general education this gives me the information I need to plan my next lesson.

For now it is working really, really well. Stay tuned... it may crash and burn, but right now I'm seeing an increase in book handling skills and concepts of print. I'm alternating between this and using the scripted programs provided for my program. I want my kids to interact with books, I just need to keep being creative about how we make the interactions meaningful.

Friday, February 15, 2013

No Naked Baby Rules: An apology to parents of former students

I owe parents everywhere an apology. I can't tell you how many times a parent has asked me to tell their child not to watch too much TV  or has told me that they pretend to call me on the phone to get their child to make good choices. I always scoffed- you can't discipline your own child? You need me to come in and do the dirty work for you? Even imaginary me works better than you?

I shook my head at these parents inability to control their children and felt smug that they needed to use me.

Until this morning, when I- just like many, many parents before me- used my daughter's teacher to get ready.

My 18 month old daughter has decided that clothes are just about the equivalent to having acid poured all over her body. (The only thing worse than clothes are footy pajamas- who knew footy pajamas were so offensive?) This morning she lay on the floor, screaming "NO, NO, NO, NO" as I held her clothes over her.

After offering her choices, ("Which shirt do you want to wear?", "Which leg do you want to put in first?") and dressing her favorite baby doll in the clothes I finally resorted to the ultimate, "Well, I'm sorry Little Lipstick, but Miss Aisha has a very strict No Naked Baby rule. I'd love to let you run naked all day, but Miss Aisha would never let you in the door. She only wants girls wearing clothes."

My daughter eyed me wearily, pausing in her screaming. She looked at me and then the offensive clothes, and then back at me. Looking me straight in the eyes she announced, "NO AYA-AYA! NO NO NO NO" and flopped back onto the floor to finish her tantrum.

I emailed Miss Aisha to tell her that 1) she now has a no-naked baby rule she didn't know about and 2) now Little L was mad at all 3 of us (Oh yes, daddy was in on this too).

The thing is- since becoming a parent I've actually read about this strategy in parenting books. It's a good one (when it works) because it allows you to stay calm and collected. It's not your rule you are trying to enforce. Your child isn't acting up as a personal affront to you. I mean, if you could you'd let them eat chocolate and drink juice all day, but Dr. White said to eat broccoli, and, well, Dr. White makes the rules.

Come to think of it I've used it in the classroom, just using the principal instead of the teacher/pediatrician. "Oh no! We can't get too loud! What if Mrs. So and So comes in- we'll be in so much trouble!"

So parents, I apologize for my judgements and smugness. You were creating a situation where you could stay calm and in control, sympathize with your child while still enforcing a very important rule.

I can guarantee that this will not be the last time I need to apologize for judging parents.

100 days...

Anyone who hasn't been in an elementary school in awhile may not fully comprehend what the 100 days of school is. I've heard confused parents ask why on earth we would celebrate such a bizarre feat, comparing it to giving every child on a soccer team a trophy. It is nothing like that. It is a way to totally trick your kids into getting ridiculously excited about math and doing math activities all day long. And maybe a bit about tricking you into collecting 100 of something around your house. Because, you know, it's important for you to count out 100 paperclips with your kindergartner. 
Reading has Dr. Seuss's birthday, now math has the 100th day.

I've had years where I've practically ignored it and years I've made a ridiculously, amazing deal out of it. This year was something in the middle. It is too good a math opportunity to pass up, but with Valentines' Day the following day there was no way we could take a total change of routine. 

What we'll look like at 100
Still, we started the day by doing 100 exercises (Thank you Splattypus- you may not be in the classroom anymore, but your ideas live on! Wow, I miss co-teaching with you.)  We did 10 reps of each exercise and I let the children choose from an exercise menu- jumping jacks, pretending to jump rope, stretching, knee lifts, etc. Nothing too strenuous  but enough so that we had something to cross off. We kept track of each exercise by taping it to a sentence strip and counting off. We taped all of the sentence strips together to really get a sense of just how BIG 100 is. That's a lot of exercises. 

My favorite activity I did this year was our age timelines. I'd asked all of my students to bring in baby pictures. I copied them on the copier so that we could glue their adorable baby pictures to a large chart paper. Then I had a picture of them in school right now. Finally I had them make a picture of what they would look like when they are 100 (which is totally an idea stolen from another teacher back at the think-tank). We put everything in a line (making a timeline is a standard we have to cover). The kids LOVE walking past their timelines in the hallway and checking out their baby pictures. I also love that I have their baby pictures. There is nothing like seeing your students as babies to make you feel empathy for them and help you gain a new perspective on their lives. 

I did make the huge mistake of asking them if they thought I was 100 years old when I introduced the activity to them. Luckily none of them said yes. Next year I'll be far more careful with how I word that lesson...

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Truly Organized Chaos...

One of the cruelest twists of fate in Virginia schools is that because we start after labor day we are forced to have the 100th day of school and Valentines' Day close together. In my own district, they were back to back.

We. Are. Exhausted.

And it is only Thursday.

However, while it has been an exhausting and overwhelming couple of days, it has also been fabulously fun and exciting.

We started planning for our Valentines party a few weeks ago. We made a list of everything we needed to accomplish and slowly but surely crossed everything off. Make valentines, decorate valentines, make decorations, cook a treat. I used the 100th day of school to force the students into making 100 links in a chain as a decoration for our party. (Not only did we work on fine motor skills but we were counting by ones and tens, over and over again, AND worked on a sense of magnitude. And in the end it just looked really pretty. Ha! I love hitting 5 birds with one stone!)

Our party wasn't just with our class, but was a combined party for all three classes in the intellectual disabilities program. The idea of bringing our classes together made it much more of a real PARTY for my kids. It wasn't just any old classroom celebration. Partying in another room is a BIG DEAL.

When it was finally time for our party this afternoon we somehow struggled through the door of the other classroom carrying our homemade valentines, our store bought valentines, our Valentines snack mix, and our decorations. I was exhausted before we even sat down.

It didn't take long to realize that despite the fact the exhaustion never disappeared, the party was worth every moment of chaos.

My second grade girls had a great time decorating for the party- what a sense of purpose they had as they got to practice their vocabulary (up, down) and direct us in where their chains should go. Then children took turns serving one another the treats, each one asking one another what they would like- allowing them to practice their language and encouraging them to listen and interact with their peers.

Then came time to pass out the valentines. I have never, ever, in ten years of teaching, seen valentine-passing-out go smoothly. Not in the primary grades where kids have trouble reading one another's names. I don't think it is possible for it to go smoothly. There is too much excitement and just too many little paper cards with candy falling off for it to go well. (That's OK. If it went well the kids probably wouldn't have any fun.)

So, needless to say, it was CHAOS. But happy, organized, productive chaos. We took children around the room directing them to hand one another valentines or put valentines into one another's bags. We tried to work on eye contact and language when we could ("say thank you", "say Happy Valentines Day") and at moments when it was just too chaotic to push the language we settled for smiles.

The kids were so happy. Despite the noise and confusion they

I've come to find that it is a bit rare for our students to have the opportunity to give people something. Many of them don't draw so they aren't in the typical childhood habit of drawing pictures and giving it to every adult they see. They don't make arts and crafts independently, and they aren't writing love notes to teachers. Frequently they are in the position to have things given to them, often by younger siblings who busy parents trust to hand out snacks, backpacks, or toys. But giving to others is something everyone enjoys doing. It makes us feel good to help others, and we should never deny anyone the chance to make someone else happy.

Our kids loved the interactions with one another. They of course loved getting the valentines, but they also loved handing out their valentines.

At one moment I looked up to watch one child slowly walk toward another, his hand clutching a valentine and a huge grin on his face. The girl he handed the valentine to lit up, looked him straight in the eye and smiled. For a moment it was just the two of them, two kids celebrating Valentines day the way every child in America does.

It was one moment that all the chaos and confusion of our Valentines' party seemed to come clear. As teachers we were exhausted, overwhelmed, and wondering if at any moment all of our students were going to fall apart from too much sugar and too much stimulation. As I watched those two I realized it was a risk that we needed to take as teachers. Interrupting all of that instruction time to plan the party, make treats and cards for one another- it was worth the opportunity to give our kids the chance to just be kids. To make one another happy, to enjoy one another's company, to just be silly and goofy and have an authentic purpose to use language.

Yesterday I wondered about my sanity and whether or not I was in the right profession. Today I drove home once again thanking God for my amazing and eye opening job. This job has me turned into a bipolar mess, but it is worth every moment.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Genius vs Opportunity

The more I watch 18 month old daughter grow and advance with her language, spatial reasoning, and general understanding of the world around her, the angrier I get. If this is how quickly toddlers learn, then why did the think-tank have so many kindergartners coming to school so totally and utterly unprepared?

Before I had experienced being the mother of a toddler I had no idea how truly amazing early development is. I'd worked with toddlers, baby sat for toddlers, and had friends who were mothers of toddlers, but I hadn't witnessed for myself the true miracle of early learning. Instead I thought that perhaps my friends were just overly drilling their children with academic information, insufferably filling their poor children's heads with color flash cards or something of the sort. Or maybe my friends just all had genius children.

Now that I can watch my own daughter develop and know that I am not drilling her with flash cards, forcing her to rote count for the sake of counting, or making her use crayons to practice her fine motor at an early age, I am gaining a better understanding of how children develop. I don't think my daughter is a genius. I think she is an average child who happens to be in a home filled with books, toys that encourage interaction and imagination, and parents who talk to her.

So what about the five year olds children who enter the think-tank with nothing- unable to identify their own name, unable to differentiate between letters and numbers, not able to count to five, understand how to hold a book or how to even listen to a story? How does that happen?

I have met five year olds who have less academic skills than my daughter's two year old friends. Not because the five year olds didn't have the intelligence to learn, but because they hadn't had the opportunity.

Preschool is essential. There just isn't a debate. There is no excuse, none, for two year olds to know more than five year olds. It's not a matter of intelligence. It's not even a matter of English as a second language. It's a matter of opportunity and exposure. Regardless of whether or not we move towards a government sponsored preschool for all program, as a society we must look at how we can get our children who need the most into school environments  AND how we can work with their parents to understand what their child needs to develop successfully.

Parents need to be educated on how to talk to their child, how to read to their child, and what sort of games and toys to buy their child. If parents have never been given a model of how to interact with their toddler- never been told that it is important to read to their child- how would they know that they should?

I worked with a parent once who sent back all of the free books I'd been sending home. "We have so many books in our house," she said, "But my kids still don't know how to read so the books are worthless."
I don't think it had ever occurred to her that she could read the books to her children until they learned to read on their own.

I want to sit down and play with my daughter without getting angry. I wish I could enjoy her development without the sinking, heartbreaking realization that there are children out there who should be developing as quickly as she is and aren't.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Re-visiting Mindset

Of all the education books, articles, blogs, and studies I've read, Carol Dweck's Mindset has had the greatest impact on my day to day teaching. When my new school announced we were going to be reading it this winter I was ridiculously excited for the chance to re-read it and get to discuss it with my new co-workers. 

I've written about Mindset frequently on here, both in terms of how it framed up how I thought about  my own thinking, how it influences how I praise and interact with my students, and how I interpret other education philosophies like Responsive Classroom, Patterns of Thinking, and general good teaching strategies. Needless to say, I love this book. Almost every time I give a child praise I find myself thinking of the research in my head. Either reminding me that saying "SO SMART!" to a child isn't really the best idea even though the words just came out of my mouth, or in trying to frame my feedback in terms of working hard and labeling specific strategies that children use.

Reading it again I have two totally new perspectives. One is as a parent and how I need to frame my language with my daughter from the very beginning. (And how hard is it to not tell your child that they are so smart, because, I mean, they are. 18 months ago she was in my womb, and 14 months ago she couldn't do much but smile, poop, and sleep. Now she can TALK. And WALK. And say "NO! NO! No!" ) The other perspective is as a teacher of students with intellectual disabilities. 

I'm really looking forward to re-reading and re-thinking about different mindsets. You'll have to excuse me because I foresee many blog posts on the subject. I apologize in advance. In just re-reading the first chapter I had to stop myself from writing three different posts. They are coming, I'm sure, over Little L's naptimes...

Friday, February 8, 2013

Old but good

Somehow I fell down the rabbit hole of reading old posts about my former student, bff. I've found myself laughing out loud. They are from years ago, but wow- do I miss that kid. I'd forgotten half of the drama and excitement he caused.

My favorite picture that my bff drew. It's Humpty Dumpty coming back from the wall. 

hidden job love

The ups and downs of this job are nothing if not extreme. On Wednesday night I was job hunting and wondering why I'd stuck with teaching for ten years. On the way home today I was saying happy prayers of thanks for having a job I love so much. 

Through all the stress and the overwhelming feeling of never being enough for these kids, it is the little moments that make it worth it. The way a child walks down the hall with confidence after she puts her coat on by herself for the first time. The quavering voice of a friend carefully counting to ten, by herself, independently, without making a mistake, and the joy on her face when she realizes she did it. The full, unprompted, three word sentence that came out of another friend's mouth. Watching two friends participate in somewhat cooperative play without adult guidance. 

The little moments of today were just the right way to end the week. Tiny stitches coming together to sew the quilt of the year. Baby steps. Promises that where we'll be in June was not where we were in September, despite days like Wednesday. 

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Digital Books Disapointment

All of my shared-reading digital book plans have been foiled. I had amazing intentions. I was going to buy my favorite read alouds for kindle and then project them onto the smartboard. We were going to giggle and laugh as a class over all the great choral reading we would do as we read books together. In my mind it was practically a Brady-Bunch-family-love type lessons. It was going to be beautiful.
The digital story-less smartboard

My generation 1 ipad, however, refused to project onto the smartboard. My school ipad projects, but not my old ipad. 

OK. No problem. I have a kindle app on my phone.

My iphone refused to project on the smartboard.

Foiled again.

No problem- right? Kindle has a PC app. Why waste all this time with different devices when it's possible to just get it on the computer. 

Turns out the picture books I want won't download on the PC.

I am in digital-storybook-depression. My hopes and dreams feel dashed. My beautiful ideas of reading and cheering together are gone. I've actually considered holding up my ipad and just reading from them, but in reality a picture book is far better than everyone staring at the ipad.

So if anyone has any ideas or suggestions for projecting digital books please let me know. And until I get answers, it will be traditional books.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Rx: chocolate, ice cream, early bedtime

Today was one of those days where I found myself wondering why on earth I chose this job and why on earth I've stayed with it. 

Lots of chocolate, lots of ice cream, maybe a hot bath. 

Tomorrow is another day. 

I love my job, but there are days when the negatives feel so much heavier than the positives. As teachers we can work so hard, put in so much time, so much energy, so much emotion and so much of ourselves for such small outcomes- and such little appreciation.

On top of everything else I read that my state has decided to start grading schools. Because, you know, I wasn't really going to teach and I didn't really care about my school, but now that they are going to be GRADING us- now I feel an incentive*. I'm so glad they understand how to motivate us lazy teachers. 

Deep sigh. 

* Sarcasm, in case you couldn't tell. 

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Making Valentines

Toilet paper rolls make excellent stamps. Just smash them a bit in the middle and the circles turn to hearts. It was a bit messy, but they look great! We're going to put our valentine messages to our friends on the back of them.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Intellectual Property & Teachers

This Sunday the Washington Post ran a story about the copyright policy Prince George's County School's is considering. From my understanding it seems that anything created by teachers or students- in or outside of school- would become the property of the school system.

In regards to student work this seems absurd. I don't quite understand what they are thinking. To say that the school would own a student's work- a student who is legally required to attend the school (unless they have the resources to go elsewhere) seems absolutely constitutionally wrong. I can't imagine this policy lasting very long.

From the teacher angle though it brings up interesting intellectual property questions. Who owns the lessons and materials we create as teachers? PG County's policy seems to be a response to Teachers Pay Teachers and other sites where teachers are selling their work. PG seems to want to be the recipient of any funds teachers would earn from selling their lessons. I don't feel like this will actually generate any revenue for PG County- I think the teachers will either turn to sharing for free OR will just stop sharing on-line all together- the incentive to sell lesson plans for money will be gone.

As teachers who owns all the hard work we do outside of school hours? I've been adapting children's picture books for my students. I've bought the books myself, used my own resources and craft supplies to turn the books into touch and feel activities, and have done all of this in my own time (For the sake of argument I'm ignoring the fact that I used Donors Choose. That brings up a whole other layer to the debate). Just because I bring these books into school to use with my students, would that  make them the property of the school system? If I did it as a hobby and did not plan on using them to teach, I would assume they would then belong to me.

I have a love/hate relationship with the site teachers pay teachers. I personally refuse to buy anything off of there because I spend enough of my own money on my students- I'm drawing the line on buying lesson plans and worksheets. It's a dangerous slope to fall into- buying worksheets and games for a few dollars here and there...  I worry how much I'd end up spending.

I like that teachers pay teachers empowers teachers over text book companies. It's a good move- to give actual teachers the ability to sell what works to other teachers. It's what we should be doing- not depending on text book companies who are not in the classroom. Anything to give the textbook companies competition seems good to me.
On the other hand- is Teachers Pay Teachers actually competition if the school systems are still paying for the text books and teachers are just spending their own money on the additional resources?

Another thing that bothers me about Teachers Pay Teachers is that it puts a significant emphasis on how things look. Of course they have to look good in order to sell- and we all love cute activities and worksheets. But it tends to get into just cute looking worksheets and in the end, a worksheet is a worksheet is a worksheet.

Regardless of my own feelings about the site itself- I am curious to see what happens with teachers and intellectual property. I am willing to bet that teachers are not making things to put on teachers pay teachers during school hours- when would they have the time? Is what we do outside of school hours property of the school system?

Does it come down to what we were hired to do? If we were hired to create a curriculum we could not turn around and sell that curriculum for our own personal gain. But we were hired to teach- to deliver information to students, monitor their progress and modify instruction so that by the end of our time with them they will know more than they knew before. We aren't officially in charge of curriculum. We do it, of course, because we have to in order to survive- but we (sadly) are rarely hired for our creativity and problem solving. In which case, if we develop lesson ideas outside of school hours that we use to enhance our jobs- are those enhancements our property, or the school system's?

Part of me is scared to get the answer to this- what more can they take away from us as teachers? The other part of me is just fascinated to see where this will lead.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Overriding Stress

I've been working hard on fighting these mid-winter blues. I'm trying to find one thing a day that I am really excited about teaching. Whenever I find myself thinking about one of the many aspects of school that stresses me out and makes me want to reconsider my career I'm trying to switch  my thoughts and focus on what I'm excited about. For the most part it's been working, although it takes some dedication. It's a funny concept to think that not being stressed takes dedication, but worrying and fretting and 'what if-ing' is a lot easier than demanding my brain to shut off stress and focus on what I love about my job.

I'm going into a pretty horrendous week. I've had a hard time being present with my family today because I've been so focused on all of the coming stress. There are a lot of balls in the air and a lot of potential to drop them.

SO, I'm re-focusing. One thing a day I'm excited about:

Monday: An IEP- I do actually enjoy IEPs. I like sitting down with parents and giving them a picture of their child. I like laying out a plan for the student to meet in the coming year. All the paperwork is stressful, but the actual IEP is enjoyable.
Also- if we have time we're going to do an art project using cardboard toilet paper rolls as stamps. I'm excited to see what the kids produce with this.
Tuesday: We're starting an animal unit in science. We'll be using Pebble Go to read up on animals, check out their information and watch videos of them.
Wednesday: Another IEP, and more animals. There is nothing like watching kids get excited about researching animals. Animal babies are just too cute.
Thursday: Writing our valentines for our classmates!
Friday: I've got kids making break through progress in math. We'll be doing in depth addition activities and I'm loving watching my kids get a deeper understanding of number concepts

5 things to get excited about. 5 things to override the stress. I can do this week. I think I can, I think I can.

What are you excited to teach this week?

the off limits playground

Being a part of starting a new school has been a fascinating process. Watching a school get built from the ground up- to go from an empty building to a breathing community is almost mesmerizing  It also makes me appreciate all the little ins and outs that go into a well run school.

One of the drawbacks of working in a brand new school is the lack of a playground. Due to a series of unfortunate events our school is still without a playground. Or- correction- without a playground we're allowed to play on.

For awhile there was a massive mound of dirt where our playground was suppose to be. It was finally moved (using very large bulldozers, much to our little boys' excitements). Then the open space sat empty for awhile, dirt-free but playground-less.

They FINALLY broke ground on the playground two weeks ago. It was a cause for celebration. And the playground looks awesome. However, while it is being installed we are forced to body block our students from accessing the playground. It's a bit hard to explain to a student with autism that no, he cannot play on the awesome, brand new, brightly colored playground because, well, it's currently under-construction. The students can SEE the playground. If they can SEE it why can't they PLAY on it? Delayed gratification is something we are learning about, and it is a very, very painful lesson.

The construction workers installing the playground waiver between amusement and horror as they watch us try to keep the kids from crossing the barrier between the blacktop and the playground (the horror comes from when our crafty kids find holes and manage to sneak through to them).

One more week and then we're hoping it will be open and ready to go. We cannot wait.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Stretching the Working Memory

The snow and wind kept us inside on Friday for recess. One of my students came up to me with the menu I'd made the class to ask me what I'd like to order from our class toy kitchen. I selected the pizza icon and asked her to read how much it would cost me. She nodded happily and then skipped back to the kitchen.

She started playing in the kitchen and I thought she'd forgotten about me and my plastic pizza. Almost five minutes later she returned, holding my pizza. Again she read to me how much I owed her and we counted out the five dollars I needed to give her in exchange for the pizza.

During that whole five minutes- the five minutes I'd figured she'd forgotten about me- she'd been "making" the  pizza, mixing up the dough, putting it in the oven, taking it out and getting it ready for me. She kept the task of making me pizza in her head- she held it in her working memory- and didn't get distracted by anything else. She followed through on her mental plan of making me the pizza and brought it to me still inside her play scheme.

It was little, but big all at once. Sure it was just play, but the more she practices holding ideas in her head, setting a goal and following through with it, and participating in symbolic, pretend play that requires her to assign meaning to plastic objects- all this stretches and exercises her working memory. Sure it's just play, but I have a feeling we were getting a lot more mental exercise than we would have been if we were sitting and working through direct instruction. (Don't get me wrong, I BELIEVE strongly in direct instruction, but I think the balance is essential.)