End of Year Cleaning

The school year is wrapping up, and it’s time to start thinking about that end of year cleaning checklist. Those of you who work in schools, how do you handle this? Do you have a routine? Do you involve students? It can be a bit overwhelming some years.

I don’t know of many jobs where you have to pack up your entire office and work area on a  yearly basis other than teaching. I am glad for it though, because it provides an annual opportunity to reevaluate materials and setup. It’s a scheduled time to reflect on what worked and what didn’t, what was useful and what is just taking up space.

For me, it’s also a time to plan for next year. We have to have our classroom furniture setup taped to our board before we leave for the summer, so our generous custodial staff can arrange it for us when they return things to the room after clearing it out to clean. I cannot say how grateful I am to them for doing this. This is the only school I’ve heard of where they don’t just dump everything in the room and leave it to the teacher to arrange upon our return. It is a huge blessing! It does mean I have to have my layout planned several months in advance of the new year though, and once I get started with planning one aspect I just keep going…

I like to involve my students in cleaning on the very last day. I’m not going to get any productive, academic work out of them, but it’s still important they have structured tasks to do. I think it also helps students develop a sense of pride in their classroom and responsibility towards the classroom community, especially since two-thirds of my students will return to my room next year. They get to see their handiwork and feel pride in preparing the room for the incoming sixth grades.

This year I stumbled upon a cool idea for end of the year cleaning task cards for students over here at Chalk and Apples TpT store, and I decided to develop a similar idea. My students already have classroom jobs through the year, and we use a classroom economy. However, there are always a couple students who end the year in debt, and I’ve never really known what to do about this. I don’t want to roll the debt ever into the next year, because I like everyone to start on a fresh, positive note. There’s no practical consequence though, so this year I thought I would have students work off the debt by helping with end of year packing and cleaning. They were going to earn so much debt cancellation for different chores that needed doing. That didn’t work out very well, because all my students wanted to help clean, even though I gave the debt free students the option of free computer or phone time. So, while this activity failed to be a consequence for ending the year with debt, it was a very successful and helpful method for structuring the end of year clean up and organizing all the tasks students could help with.

Anyway this is what I came up with:

eoy job mat

What do you think? You can download your own copy here at my TpT store. I laminated it and had students check off each task as they finished. Student favorites were the bulletin board and the supply closet. I actually had 2  students working together on the closet with my assistance. They really liked organizing everything and deciding where our supplies for next year would go. I also let them take home anything I didn’t want anymore.

I decided to go crayon free for next year. My middle school students have decided crayons are too young, and they haven’t been touched in my room for two years. I let my pencil sharpener take home as many as he wanted and then had him create bags of crayons for students to take home and give to younger siblings.

So, what do you do on the last day of school? Do you involve your students in cleaning and packing? If so what tasks do you have them do? Is there anything you would add or remove from my menu board?


Student-Led IEP Meetings: Getting the Kids Involved

It seems like Student-Led IEP is a buzz word going around special education right now. I’m not sure who decided this was a new thing, but to me it has been part of my students’ transition goals since I was a student-teacher, writing IEPs for mentor teacher. It seemed to me the obvious first transition goal, since most students don’t yet know what they want to be career-wise and will likely change it multiple times. Why not instead have a goal that is more applicable to the students’ current needs, like say… understanding and participating in the meeting they are now required to attend?

My students actually really love their annual review. Last year, I even had one 8th grade student write her entire IEP with no more assistance than my supervision to make sure she included everything and placed it under the correct section. While my students tend not to lead the actual meeting, they do write at least a section of the IEP with or without my help. I also require them to do the introductions at the beginning of the meeting and read the transition section of the IEP.

I have had many administrators ask me how I prepare my students to do this. The secret is that every student keeps a copy of their IEP with them and we refer to it constantly to discuss what helps them and what they have a right to ask for in regular education classes. I also made up a packet that takes the students through the IEP sections step by step. You can see it here.

My students really like that they get a say in their accommodations and even their goals. They are much more motivated to achieve goals they wrote themselves, and they are more comfortable advocating for accommodations when they understand the why and the how of them (and that it is a legal requirement to fulfill them!).

Teaching Positive and Negative Integers in Special Education

Do your students struggle with adding or subtracting positive and negative integers? This can be a mind-blowing concept for some students when first introduced, but it doesn’t need to be. Here are 4 ways to teach this so all students understand:

Start with Something Familiar: Money

I introduce the topic of negatives by having a discussion about where they might have seen negative numbers. Someone might talk about temperature, particularly if this lesson happens to be during winter, if I’m lucky, a student might bring up coordinate places (cue perfect segway into the number line approach!), but invariably someone always mentions owing money. We have a classroom economy system, and it sometimes happens that a student might go into debt, so they’ve seen negative amounts of money. We just call it “debt” or “money owed.” Now though, we can discuss it as negatives.

Discuss what happens when money is earned or money is lost; this is adding and subtracting with negatives! Pull out the play money and an account register like this one I made here. Let the students have some hands on practice adding and subtracting dollars by giving them different real-world scenarios.

The Number Line/Coordinate Plane

If it happens that your students have already worked with 4 quadrant coordinate planes, then this method will be easy to help your students visualize adding and subtracting with negatives. I prefer the x and y axis plane, because you have both the horizontal and vertical number lines, but if it hasn’t been introduced to your students yet, just use whatever number line is familiar to your students.

Number lines allow students to not only compare integers, but to begin to view positive and negative numbers as opposites. To encourage this, I have students draw on transparency and label the x and y number lines on their papers using rulers to ensure spacing is even and exact. e fold the lines in half and discuss how the numbers are the same unit value (absolute value review here!), but negative is the opposite of positive, meaning it’s been removed. Put together, two opposite integers of the same value cancel each other out, giving a value of zero. This step is important for students to grasp for when we eventually get into equations with integers, but it is also helpful in understanding subtracting or adding negatives.

No Such Thing as Subtracting

After teaching these methods,  I then prep my students for a mind bender. I tell them there is no such thing as subtraction. It doesn’t exist; subtraction is just adding a negative! There is a great video clip of a PBS Math Club debate on this topic that you can watch here:

We then do some practice problems to drive the point home. I box the signs with the number it is attached to to help the students visualize how the subtraction sign is acting as an added negative.
Commutative Property

This one is short and sweet. I do a quick reteach of the commutative property. We’ve now looked at how the subtraction sign can be attached to a number to become an added negative. Commutative property helps students put this understanding to work by switching around different expressions. 4 – 7 is the same as -7 + 4. This helps students see how the minus/negative sign is attached to the number “behind” it. It also gives students the “permission” to move around the numbers into whatever order is easier for them to solve and adds some extra perspective into their practice.
Integer Song – Summary Activity

Finally, I give students the rules of adding and “subtracting” positive and negative numbers. My notes for them are brief and given only after teh previous discover activites.

  1. If both numbers have the same sign add the values. Keep the sign the same.
  2. If each number has a different sign, subtract the values. Give the answer the sign of the larger number
  3. If there is a minus next to a negative, the 2 signs combine to become a positive(relate this to taking away debt). Then follow the above rules.

I type these notes up to give students a printed handout which they keep in a sheet protector in their math binders. Get your copy of my Integer Operations Rules Handout on my Teachers Pay Teachers Store.

We end this intro unit by singing a song to the tune of “Row, Row, Row Your Boat.”

Same sign, add and keep. 

Different signs, subtract!

Keep the sign of the bigger number,

and it will be exact. 

Once we’ve finished all these activities, it’s time for some assessment to see where students are. This Formative Benchmark Negative Operations Quiz is great to get a good idea of where, or even if, students are still tripping up.

Bonus Strategy – Bird Beak

This year, one of my students came up with her own method of remembering rule 3: a minus sign next to a negative sign becomes a plus/positive sign. She drew this:

2 negatives become a positive

She thought it looks like a bird eating. Any time she sees the “eyes,” she knows to draw the beak and a the plus sign underneath.

8 Mistakes You May Be Making When Writing Tests

This morning I had a student come to me in tears before school started. She had checked her grades on the student portal on her phone while waiting in the morning car line, and she was devastated to discover that she had made an F on a test that she had really studied hard for, both in my resource room and at home. She was so upset and truly shocked.

Unfortunately, I was not shocked. Her Cued Speech transliterator was absent the day the student took the test, so her regular education teacher had her take the test to me so I could cue and read it aloud to her. This granted me a unique opportunity to see the test myself.

Yikes! There were several questions I had to read twice before even I understood what it was asking. Many questions were intentionally designed to be tricky, leading you to think it was looking for one answer when really that information was irrelevant to the actual intent of the question.

I understand that some teachers do this prepare students for college or standardized testing or, perhaps, even for convoluted situations that may occur in real life, but if the point of the assessment was to gauge the students’ current knowledge of the content on the test, then it fell far short of the goal. My student knew her stuff. We studied backwards and forwards together, and I made a Quizlet for her to practice at home. She even had her classmates and younger sister quiz her from the study guide several times, too. She not only memorized the study guide, but she really understood and could apply the information when prompted to. Before seeing the test, I had been confident she’d make an A.

As teachers, I think we need to very carefully analyze how we are writing our tests and why we are writing them that way. What is the goal of the assessment? Our goal should not be to trip up a previously confident student who had put in a ton of effort to learn the information. The goal should be to assess what they know and understand, and we need to make sure we are writing the tests accordingly.

Check out this blog post from Teach 4 the Heart about common mistakes teachers make when writing assessments that can alter the purpose of the assessment:8 Mistakes You May Be Making When Writing Tests. We don’t want students to memorize or guess, but we also don’t want to damage their motivation to continue studying by causing them to fail for reasons other than content understanding.

Encouraging Use of Assistive Hearing Devices

Encouraging Hearing Aid UseDo your students complain about wearing their CI processors or personal FMs? I have several students who refuse to wear their listening devices to the extent that they have begun “losing” or vandalizing these expensive devices, so that they won’t have to wear them. How do you encourage students to be proactive about their hearing access and wear the devices that we know helps them?

Does your school handle this as a personal choice? I know the residential schools I’ve worked at did so. The student could decide. However, all the mainstream schools I’ve worked at make it an IEP team decision at which the parent and/or teacher can overrule the students choice. We then end up providing very expensive equipment the students don’t want. I spend many mornings arguing, consoling, demanding, and explaining in an attempt to get those students to use the equipment.

I feel like I’ve tried everything. We’ve done behavior charts with rewards for using the equipment. We’ve had class discussions with hearing peers to explain what the equipment is; we’ve read books and comics with Deaf characters who use hearing devices to encourage pride. I’ve taught self-advocacy classes, and I’ve taught science classes on sound, hearing and hearing aids, CIs, and personal FMs. W’eve brought in parents and had family discussions. I’ve given consequences and filed police reports on the damaged equipment. I am out of ideas on my own.

I’m looking for solutions. How do you handle this? Do you have any tips or suggestions to try? I would appreciate any and all ideas to help me reach these kids who are falling behind.

Reading Logs

Ah, the dreaded question…how do we keep students accountable for independent reading? Do we record number of pages read, amount of time spent reading, types of genres explored? Do we require students to summarize reading, have parents sign off, or answer generic questions about their reading? We all know how important daily reading is for students to develop good language, vocabulary, reading comprehension, decoding, and writing skills. Daily reading improves all areas of learning by expanding background knowledge, vocabulary, exposure to sentences structures and imagination (a.k.a. critical thinking). reading english

My school’s policy is for students to read 20 minutes every day a minimum of 5 days a week. However, there are only 2 teachers I know of who actually monitor this required reading. Last year, I attempted to institute a reading log to monitor students reading in my own classroom. I decided to go with an evidence of comprehension model as opposed to a time or pages record. I was sorely disappointed with the results.

My goal was to get students to think beyond just telling the events that happened in their 20 minutes of reading. I wanted them to think about what they had read and the process of reading itself. Despite repeated modeling, whole-class and small-group correcting, and explicit sentence stems and group reading log writing sessions, I was never able to get my students beyond the point of summarizing what they read, if they even understood what they were reading well enough to be able to summarize what happened in the first place.

Here is what I gave them to glue into their composition bound reading log as reference: read_log_and_rubric I found it for free on Teachers Pay Teachers and modified it to meet my students’ needs. I no longer remember who sold this product. If you recognize it please let me know so that I may give the correct person credit for this great resource.

Despite being a few weeks into the current school year, I am still not sure what I am going to do for reading logs. Any suggestions? I may just repeat what I did last year and continue trying to model and correct. Maybe they will eventually build up the higher level skills?

National Teacher Day and Teachers Pay Teachers Sale


Have any of you heard of the site Teachers Pay Teachers? I am in love with the wealth of free and reasonably priced resources for my classroom available on that site. I am so obsessed I even started my own store to share my own worksheets, projects, and lesson ideas. You can check it out here: https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Store/Talking-With-My-Hands.

Anyway, today is National Teacher Day in the USA! (Thank you to all those teachers out there who work hard to support our students! I know I would not be able to do my job nearly as well without the help of all the other teachers who work with my students.)

In honor of National Teacher Day, many sellers on Teachers Pay Teachers, includingsale_250_120 myself, are throwing a huge sale on our products. Be sure to check out the site and my store today and tomorrow while the sale is still going on. I already have a list of items to download for my students at the discounted price.

If you sell on TpT, feel free to comment with the link to your store. I am always looking for new resources. If you’re looking for DHH resources, be sure to follow me as I often make/upload materials I’ve made for my students with hearing loss, since I know it is hard to find good materials. If you’re looking for something specific that I don’t have available, let me know and I can design something new for you.

Thanks again to all the teachers out there! Never forget that you do make a difference.