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?

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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.

Our First Week Back!

Wow! It has been a fantastic first week of school here! I have never had a year begin so smoothly. Hopefully, this a good omen of the months to come.

We started our week on Tuesday since Monday was Meet the Teachers day. One of our parents was kind enough to mention that “You know your child’s teacher is in the right place when Meet the Teacher is more of a family reunion, and the kids are actually excited to start back to school.” I was so happy to hear her view the day that way; although I do have a bit of an advantage since I keep my students for 3 years in a row.

Tuesday started with a rush of FM equipment assignments. How do you manage your hearing equipment monitoring and organization? I have 13 students in my school who use FM equipment in addition to their hearing aids and/or cochlear implants. 12 of them keep their equipment in my room, and that’s a lot of chargers, wires, transmitters, and individually programmed receivers to keep sorted. It took a bit of practice, but I think I have gotten my students trained to the system of coming a few minutes early to school, going directly to my classroom, putting on and syncing their own receivers, providing an adult with the transmitter to do the Ling 6 sound check, and then marking their monitor documents themselves with the correct annotation to note if the equipment is working or if there was a problem. Then, at the end of the day, the students leave their class a few minutes early to return the equipment to my room and hook everything up to the chargers labeled with their initials. It is a smooth system that has worked for me the last 3 years. I will give more detail about this in a later post if there is interest. Do you do something different? I would love to hear about it?

In my self-contained classroom, all my kids were returning students, so I kept all my classroom routines and rules either the same or pretty similar. This made reviewing the procedures quick and easy. I addressed changes as the need arose so as not overwhelm any students. They were more receptive than I expected since some of my students with OHI (OCD) or ASD are typically highly resistant to changes in procedures.  There were really very few classroom changes though.

I started right in on academics on Wednesday.In 8th grade science, our unit is “Our Changing Earth: Structures and Processes.” We are learning about the layers of the Earth, plate tectonics, and continental drift for the next two weeks. 7th grade is doing a chemistry unit, but in my room, we will only be studying the 4 states of matter and then the difference between homogeneous and heterogeneous mixtures. The rest of it a bit too abstract, and won’t have much real life application for the students chosen career categories. Social Studies is U.S. History with a focus on South Carolina, so we are starting with a unit on Native Americans. I’m doing a cross-curricular unit with that and ELA, since the ELA unit is myths with a theme of cultural identity. In math, we started with a unit on 3D shapes to begin our geometry focus.

The students were great all week. They did well getting to their inclusions classes on time and finding their way around the school. Most of them have at least one core class in the general education environment, and they are doing well keeping up this first week and advocating for their accommodations. Altogether, they have done really well, and I hope it continues.

How was your first week? If you haven’t started school yet, what are you doing to prepare?

Extended School Year Lessons

Well we are half way through summer now and deep into ESY. As a special education teacher with a high-need skill, my contract has me on call for the extended school year (summer school for special ed), and every year, I’ve been called in.

I love it though, especially now as a classroom teacher during the regular nine month school year. ESY gives me a break in routine and lets me return to my itinerant roots, traveling to my students to work with them one on one on high need, functional skills: language and auditory training without worry for content knowledge like social studies and science. It’s a much more relaxing environment for me since there’s no curriculum pacing guide we have to rush to keep up with.

I try to make sure that is also a break for the students, too. It is summer after all, and none of them are happy to be one of the few who gets pulled from camp by their school teacher or, worse, has their teacher visit them at their house!

Here are some ways I try to make ESY lessons fun:

1-adjective-scavenger-hunt-001

  • Go on a vocabulary scavenger hunt. This one requires you plan in advance and are familiar with hte environment. I will sometimes have students meet me at the public library or my school classroom, and this is one of my go to lessons for those settings. It’s pretty straightforward and real simple to prep. Give students a list of the vocabulary they are learning. They then have to find examples of those words in the room (or building or yard). Just make sure there is at least one item that would fit each word. This works best for nouns and some adjectives. Verbs and adverbs are tricky as there’s no guarantee someone will be doing something to fit the word. I have let students act out these words before, though, so if you really want to include them you can with a that minor modification.

http://www.schooltechnology.org Photos of elementary students using iPads at school to do amazing projects.

  • Bring in the iPad! I have a personal iPad, and my summer students consider this the most sacred of rewards. Originally, I thought I would use the iPad in my classroom, but after our school iPad was broken by an overly excited student who forgot to put the iPad down before she started signing about her game score, I removed my personal iPad from the classroom. It’s too expensive a device to risk. However, I do bring it out during ESY. It’s a more supervised, one-on-one environment, so the risk is reduced, and the motivation and feeling of exclusivity for the students makes the risk worth it. For every 1 paper activity my students complete without complaint, they get to complete 1 round of 1 educational game on the iPad. They will do just about anything willingly to get that iPad access. We also usually write our own kid’s book using different iPad apps as a summer-long project. I publish the books and include them in our class library during the school year, so student has something to show off to the other students who didn’t have ESY.

Kids-reading-outside-e1401300393333-150x150

  • Read outside. A change of scenery can make a world of difference. If a student is getting fidgety, I’ll let them pick a book, and we’ll go outside to read. This is my tricky way of testing auditory reception. We sit side by side, and I read aloud. (Sometimes I will let a sibling read aloud if they are available and willing.) At random moments, I stop and ask the student to point to the last word read. We tally how many times they get it correct, and if they beat their record from the earlier times, they’re rewarded. This activity requires them to pay constant attention, but it also lets me check how well they can follow auditory input in an uncontrolled environment with a variety of background noises, not to mention that we get to be outdoors and get some sun on a pretty day. 😉
  • Sound classification outside Speaking of all the outdoor noise, another great activity I use with my newly hearing or younger ESY students was dubbed Summer Sound Sorting (by a student who had just learned the word “alliteration”). This can be a relaxing activity for a student who is feeling frustrated with other work, but be aware it may be very difficult with student with severe hearing loss or who have been recently aided/implanted. We go outside and be as quiet as possible. The student has to try to name each sound they hear. Is it a bird? A lawn mower? A car? Was that the wind or a person? Sometimes, we’ll take the iPad out to record all the sounds to review later. One student made a sound book with audio clips for his summer book project.

music

  • Popular Songs During the school year, I have students bring in songs they want me to cue and/or explain for them. I’ve started requiring this of my ESY students. Each session they have to bring in a song them like (parent responsibility to check for appropriateness), and we go over the vocabulary, idioms, and figurative language that comes up. My students love it! I love it too, because it gets them listening to music more and gives them something to talk about with their chronological age peers. Often, my students get left out of many social conversation about bands and top songs, but this helps keep them in the loop. We even work on singing along!

conversation beech ball

  • Keep it active! For most ESY activities, I try to make sure the student is moving. Even just a little movement can go a long way. Instead of a matching worksheet, we’ll use flashcards and really spread them out. We will act out books instead of write summaries (although they may have to write the script for us to act it!). Thanks to this inspiring blog post, I also have a beach ball that I wrote conversation topics on. We toss it back and forth; whichever topic our left thumb lands on, we talk about for a minimum of 3 minutes and no less than 3 student sentences. Anything to get them moving will help keep your students engaged when they’d rather be playing.

So how about you guys? Do you have any great summer therapy or ESY lessons? How do you make summer learning more fun for your students?

Language and Standardized Testing

testing

We are now deep into the second swing of standardized testing. In my state, we use the MAP, PASS, ACT Aspire, and state End of Course assessments. We also have ACCESS for our English Language Learners.

This year has been full of changes as both ACCESS and ACT Aspire were brand new to us. ACCESS replaced ELDA, and ACT Aspire replaced the reading, writing, language and math subcategories of our PASS tests. Has it ever been an adjustment getting IEPs and everything in order in time! Especially since the ACT Aspire test was still making procedural changes up until 1 week before they required all documentation to be done (and 2 days AFTER our school required that data to be submitted!).

The change to ACT Aspire for all our ELA and math assessments led me to rethink how I prep my students for standardized tests. Do you do test prep at all or do you just build it into your regular content and instruction? Do any of you have good test prep strategies or lessons?

In the past, I have never done test prep as a specific lesson or focus. I always just built-in test taking strategies and content into my regular lessons, and then let students perform as they would. PASS is well above the level of students in self-contained classes, so I never drilled them or gave explicit test taking instruction. My goal was that they learn the content as best they can. Unfortunately, I saw students tripped up by the language of the questions year after year and mark wrong answers for content I know they knew the correct answer to.

This year, I have trained students how to write constructed response answers for math and ELA content that is above their level. I have given in to the test prep frenzy, but I’m worried that even with this direct instruction students will not know what to do with the new format. The language is just so far above where my self-contained students are.

How do you teach constructed response answers for math? How do you help students write constructed responses for texts you know they likely will not understand? Do you have any suggestions for prevention misunderstanding of the questions themselves?