Saturday, September 16, 2017

My Favorite Fall Resources

I'm excited to share my favorite fall resources for the classroom with you today, including a freebie!

Kick off October (with my birthday AND Halloween, it's clearly the best month of the year) with a pumpkin perseverance craftivity that'll look great on your bulletin board. With tons of size and style options, you can pick the version that works best for your students.

Decorate your door with a custom fall banner using the Fall Build Your Own Banner Letter Pennants! You could spell out "Welcome," "It's Fall Y'all!" or your own name! 

I like to keep my centers similar throughout the year (check out my post on how I set up my centers here), but the kids love when I add some seasonal options! In September and October, I use my Picking Apples and Gathering Leaves word sorts, and then bust out the Turkey Hunts for November!

As Thanksgiving approaches, consider an activity to encourage gratitude in your students. My Thankfulness Reflection Journal is chock full of thoughtful prompts and detailed coloring pages and quotes.

This FREE Autumn Alphabetical Order Activity makes a great center, or you can use the no-prep version as an early finisher or in your sub plans.

You can check out the Fall Resources section of my store for even more autumn activities! I hope you and your students enjoy this season to the fullest!

Friday, September 15, 2017

11 Adorable Halloween Costumes for Teachers

Holidays are one of the best parts of being a teacher, am I right? You can celebrate to your heart's content and you have a captive audience. Halloween might be my favorite holiday to celebrate at school, minus the sugar rush. Here are 11 adorable options for your teacher costume this year!

1. Mrs. Frizzle
Mrs. Frizzle is the teacher we all aspire to be (or is that just me?), and with the new Magic School Bus coming out soon, it's particularly topical.

2. Olivia the Pig

This Olivia the Pig costume is so, so cute and instantly recognizable to any elementary schooler.

3. The Very Hungry Caterpillar

This Very Hungry Caterpillar costume idea will let you dress up as the classic book without waddling around in a caterpillar suit all day.

4. Hedwig the Owl

Oh hey, it's me! I dressed up as Hedwig last year by making a cape out of fleece and painting yellow eyes on a white hat. Bonus points for a Hogwarts letter tied to your ankle!

5. Pete the Cat

Pete the Cat is beloved by students and teachers everywhere for his groovy attitude and snazzy shoes. 

6. Chicka Chicka Boom Boom

I couldn't leave out Chicka Chicka Boom Boom-- the classic kindergarten teacher costume!

7. If You Give A Mouse A Cookie

This If You Give A Mouse A Cookie outfit looks pretty easy to put together-- just overalls, ears, and a posterboard cookie!

8. Madeline

My friend Alicia of Primary Scouts makes the cutest Madeline of all time, does she not?!

9. Box of Crayons

This box of crayons costumes goes beyond the typical conehead crayon outfit! That felted sweater looks like a lot of work, but it sure is cute. (And I WOULD totally wear it on non-Halloween days too)

10. Arthur

This Arthur costume is SO easy and fun! I would even add a library card as a prop.

11. Pencil

From the same creator of the crayon outfit comes the best pencil costume I have ever seen!!! Time to bust out the sewing machine!

Who are you going to be for Halloween this year? Even without a costume, you can add some fall festivity to your classroom with my Perseverance Pumpkins Bulletin Board Kit!

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Teaching the Six Syllable Types

Most phonics programs cover all sorts of one syllable words, from digraphs to diphthongs, but then stop. Or else, they jump right to prefixes and suffixes, without ever explicitly addressing how to read two syllable words. Many students are able to intuitively apply their phonics knowledge to read two syllable words with ease, but this is often not the case for our struggling readers. Introducing the six syllable types (and providing plenty of practice) is a great next step for your students that have mastered one syllable words, but still need explicit phonics instruction.

Closed Syllables
Closed syllables are the first kind of syllables most students learn to read. CVC words, for example, are closed syllable. A closed syllable has a short vowel and ends (or is "closed in") with a consonant. Cat, in, sock, and hug are all words that are closed syllables. Students who can read these words can easily learn to read two syllable words made up of closed syllables, such as cactus and rabbit. Teach students to look for two consonants in the middle of a word, and split the syllables between those consonants. For example: cac/tus and rab/bit. Students can sound out each syllable individually and put them together to form the word. I love teaching closed syllables because students can feel successful reading "big words" very quickly!

Silent E Syllables
Silent e syllables are those that have a long vowel and end with a silent e-- CVCe or VCe words, essentially. Cake, ice, and rope are all words that are silent e syllables. Many compound words contain silent e syllables, such as cupcake and sunrise, as well as non-compound words, like mistake and reptile. As with closed syllable words, teach students to look for two consonants and split the word between them, as in mis/take and cup/cake. Then, the student can read the two syllables and put them together to read the word.

R-Controlled Vowel Syllables
R-controlled syllables contain one of the r-controlled vowels pairs: AR, OR, IR, UR, or ER. Car, bird, and fern are all words that are r-controlled vowel syllables. Hammer, popcorn, and thunder are two syllable words with r-controlled vowel syllables. As with the above syllable types, teach students to split the words between the consonants, as in pop/corn and thun/der. If the r-controlled vowel syllable is the first syllable, teach students to split after the r-controlled vowel, as in star/fish and nar/whal. 

Vowel Team Syllables
Vowel team syllables contain one of the main vowel teams or diphthongs, such as EE, IGH, OA, or OI. Train, leaf, and claw are words that are vowel team syllables. Pillow, scooter, and poison are two syllable words that contain vowel teams syllables. As with the other syllable types, have students look for two consonants and split between them, as in pil/low. If there are not two consonants, have them split after the first vowel team, as in scoo/ter and poi/son. 

Consonant + LE Syllables
Consonant + LE syllables are made up of a consonant followed by LE, such as tle, cle, and zle. Unlike the other syllable types, these syllables do not form words on their own, but are always part of a multisyllable word, such as puzzle or turtle. Teach students that when they see LE at the end of a word, it will be read as /ull/. The consonant preceding LE will stay with the LE when splitting the syllables, regardless of whether there are two consonants or one. For example, students will of course split puzzle as puz/zle, but maple will be split ma/ple, not map/le. 

Open Syllables
Open syllables contain a long vowel and do not end with a consonant. I teach these syllables last, as students are generally less familiar with them. The one syllable words that are open syllables are mostly sight words, such as he, she, and be. Two syllable words with open syllables include robot, spider, and donut. With open syllables, students can't follow the simple rule of dividing between the two consonants, as these words have a single consonant in the middle. With open syllables, students will split after the vowel and before the consonant, as in spi/der and do/nut. However, some students may struggle with this, as these words could be split other ways still following the rules taught above. For example, a student might split donut don/ut to form two syllables. In this case, students can use trial and error. Prompt them to think, "Is don/ut a word? It's not, so the first syllable may be a closed syllable. Is do/nut a word? Yes, it is." 

You can snag my free poster outlining these syllable types with examples here.

You can also get the six week unit that has everything you need to teach the six syllable types here.

Monday, August 28, 2017

5 Baby Steps for White Teachers Waking Up to Injustice

If you weren't already aware that racism is alive, well, and affecting our students daily in this country, then recent events may have cleared that up for you. While some white teachers may sadly dive more deeply into defensiveness and willful ignorance, I am hopeful that others will begin their journey towards waking up to injustice. No list of to-do's or books to read will dissolve centuries of racism or even our own white privilege, but here are a few baby steps to get you started:

1. Diversify your library. Representation matters. The United States is only 62% (non-Latinx) white, and public school students are even less white. So why do 78% of children's books feature only white characters?! That being said, there ARE many wonderful diverse books out there and it's important your kids have access to them. Check out this list from The Tutu Teacher for a good start.

2. Publicly declare that black lives matter. Yes, it should be obvious. But sadly, it's not. By publicly stating this IRL or online, you're standing up for what's right. Hopefully, you may also expand the views of people in your circles who many not understand what BLM is. You can grab a T-shirt or sticker here (proceeds go to the ACLU) and/or a Facebook cover photo here.

3. Seek out teachers of color. It is 100%, absolutely NOT POCs' job or obligation to educate white people. That being said, simply by expanding who you interact with at school and online, you can learn a lot. Click here to see some of my favorite teachers of color to follow on social media.

4. Be aware of your race in the classroom. For those of us who grew up in a predominantly white area, you might never really have thought about your own race much. Even if you teach students of color now, you may think of them as the "other" and yourself as the default. However, I assure you that your students are very much aware of the fact that you're white and see your interactions through that lens. I can't tell you exactly how this will affect your classroom or interactions with students, but for now, start with simply being aware of it. 

5. Read. There are so many books and articles about race and education. Most of them are not easy reads-- but this was never going to be easy. Here are a few books lists to get your started: 16 Books About Race That Every White Person Should Read, Social Justice Books Booklist for Education, and 10 Books I Wish My White Teachers Had Read.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Setting up Centers in a Resource Classroom

Alright teacher-friends, get ready to learn all the ins and outs of running centers in a resource classroom! It took me four years of teaching to get this system honed, and I'm really excited to share it with you. 
This post contains affiliate links.

For context, I use this system with my K-4 reading resource ("pull out") students, though mostly 3rd/4th last year. I see these ten students for one hour a day, all of them together, no paraprofessional. I spend the first 25-30 minutes together whole group on the rug, for a morning meeting of sorts and our Common Core-aligned comprehension lesson. Then, we move into our groups to work on foundational skills for the rest of our time together.

Making Groups
Because I use this time to work on foundational skills, I create my groups based on students' phonics and sight word level. I use my diagnostic test from my Phonics by Design curriculum to determine their phonics levels, and do a basic sight word screener to determine how many words they know. I take running records as well to get an idea of whether I'll be able to keep the same groups for guided reading. Last year, my Group 1 started out working on pre-primer and primer sight words, mastering all letter sounds, and CVC words. My Group 2 needed a brief review of beginning phonics skills and then more in-depth intermediate phonics instruction (r-controlled vowels, vowel diphthongs, etc.), as well as second and third grade sight words. Group 3 needed a brief review of 1-syllable phonics skills, and then was ready to move on to multi-syllable words. These groups will determine what the students work on during small group time with you, as well as what tasks you will provide for centers.

Making A Schedule
Your schedule will depend on the number of groups you form, as well as much time you have. I have two rotations a day. One group will work with me, while the other will work on a task (more on that to come), and then switch. The third group works on independent work in their binder for both rotations. I show my Groups 2 & 3 combined on Thursday on my schedule, which I would often do, but I also might just see whoever I needed to see at that time. Between days off, assemblies, IEP meetings, and absent students, I would rarely see all of my students for a full hour all five days of the week. I could skip the "Thursday" schedule and still see each group a minimum of two times and each group would have task time twice. The binder work consists of fully independent work that the students can do with no help from me whatsoever. I felt like they were getting that opportunity so rarely (because they were inclusion the rest of the day), that I wanted to make sure they got to chance to complete something start to finish independently. This also allowed me to work with my small groups without (for the most part) interruption. I used the independent work from my Phonics by Design curriculum each week (which you can also buy separately as NO PREP Word Work if you don't need a whole curriculum), or else reading passages and questions for my highest group. On my sample schedule below, each rotation is 15 minutes long.

Choice Boards
I was so inspired by all the work tasks I would see in self-contained rooms, but at first (by at first, I mean three years) I wasn't quite sure how to make the system work for my resource students. Last year, I came up with a Task Time Choice Board, which I was able to use ALL YEAR. It was the gift that kept on giving. The choice board has nine choices on it, and each student would get a copy in their binder each week. Their job was to complete three of the tasks in a row each week. They would color in the task they completed after they finished. This was the golden ticket I needed to ensure choice AND accountability. Initially I gave all three groups the same choice board (but the tasks themselves were different), but as my school began a push towards sustained independent reading, I changed many of the choices for my higher groups to reading. I also have a couple different versions of the choice boards that I would switch out from time to time, so that students didn't get into the habit of doing the same three choices each week.
You can get the choice boards for free here! It includes 10 variations + a blank version in case you want to use different tasks.

Okay, onto the tasks! Some of my choices for tasks are clip cards, puzzles, word sort, file folders, adapted books, magnetic letters, play dough stamping, gel boards, rainbow words, independent reading, and a "bonus" activity. When I switched up the choice boards I would rotate some of these in and out of the grid to keep the students interested. I store the choices that are different for each group in plastic bins with the group number on it, and the choices that are the same for all groups on a shelf nearby. The differentiated tasks (clip cards, puzzle, word sort, file folders, adapted books, and bonus) would stay the same all month. Yep, all month! Because students are only (typically) doing 3 tasks a week, they only end up repeating most activities once or twice, which gives them a chance to improve. If they're getting bored with it, they just don't choose that one! 

A little more on each choice:

Clip Cards
Each group had it's own clip card bin. Clip cards are one of my favorite tasks because you just print, laminate, cut, and throw in some clothespins. I mostly use my Centers by Design Clip Cards, which align to what the students are working on during their small group instruction with me. After a student completes the clip cards, s/he spreads them out and takes a picture with the tablet (I use this inexpensive Amazon Fire) to record their answers. Then s/he undoes the clips and puts back the bin. I know it's probably not best practice to have them undo the clips, but my students really didn't seem to mind-- they actually like undoing them, and they know their work is recorded on the tablet. When I didn't have them undo them themselves, I often wouldn't get to re-setting them (re: no para) and then they wouldn't be ready for the next kid. 

This is another one that's differentiated for each group. I used phonics and sight word puzzles from Lakeshore Learning, the Target Dollar Spot, as well as some I made myself. Like the clip cards, the student assembles the puzzles and then records his/her work with the tablet before taking the puzzles apart.

Word Sort
Each group has a word sort that aligns to their small group instruction. I use my Centers by Design Word Sorts, as well as my Alphabetical Order Activities for my higher groups. I copy the recording sheets at 70% so they fit nicely in the work task tubs, and then you just include the word cards. Frankly, I've even stopped laminating the word cards because they just don't get that beat-up. Students don't need to take a picture of their work because they can just turn in the recording sheet in the turn-in basket.

File Folders
I organize the file folders for the three groups in three different magazine holders that I place on top of the shelf with the task tubs. Each holder contains three file folders-- for my purposes, three file folders = one task. When completed, students spread out all three file folders, record their work with the tablet, and reset the folders. I use my Centers by Design File Folders to give them practice on their current phonics skill, and I sometimes mix in some older skills to give them some review!

Adapted Books
Sometimes I would differentiate the books into different tubs, sometimes not. ALL my students need preposition practice, so I would often use my Seasonal Adapted Preposition Books. But I would also mix in phonics or sight word preposition books as needed. My students love adapted books, so I didn't feel the need to have them record their work. You could have them take a video on the tablet reading the book, however, or sometimes I would have my kids read to someone else in their group. 

I put the bonus activity on the schedule so I could include any fun or needed activities I found! You know, those Dollar Spot finds or the adorable center you see on TPT. You could easily exclude this if you don't think you'll use it! 

Magnetic Letters
Students build their sight words using magnetic letters on a magnetic board. My students all have 10 words on their sight word rings (more details about that here) at a time, so they would make those ten words. They would record their work with the tablet and then put the letters away. My higher students were no longer working on sight words by the end of the year, so I took this choice off their boards.

Play Dough Stamping
Like the magnetic letters, this is only for students working on sight words. They take their sight word rings and stamp the words into flattened play dough using letter stamps. They then record their work with the tablet before cleaning up. Some friends had a lot of trouble not playing with the play dough, so I tended to rotate this choice on and off their boards. You could also have them stamp on paper-- I just like to cut down on papers floating around as much as possible!

Gel Boards
These are another option for students working on sight words. Students take their rings and write out their sight words on a gel board, take a picture, and clean up.

Rainbow Words
Another sight word choice! The bin has rainbow templates and a container of markers. Students write each of their sight words (repeating the word as many times as will fit) in each stripe of the rainbow in a different color. They don't need to take a picture, as they'll turn in their rainbow in the turn-in basket.

Independent Reading
For my students no longer working on sight words, they have Independent Reading listed for several choices. Students grab their book box, choose a spot, and read the whole time. When it's time to switch, they write the title of the book they read on the line on their choice board. All students also read independently if they finish their task early.

I know this might seem like A LOT of tasks to keep up with, but only 5-6 of them need to be different for each group, and you're only changing them out once a month. So that's 15 tasks once a month, and once you have the tasks prepped, they can be used over and over again. My Group 2 students were ready for Group 3's tasks by the end of the year, so I was able to reuse those even within the same year. And at times I would also combine tasks for Group 1 & Group 2 or Group 2 & Group 3. 

Obviously these "tasks" are very different from what would be used in a self-contained or autism classroom. I don't take data on the tasks, but rather use them as a way for students to get needed practice in a tactile, engaging way, rather than just completing worksheets. On Friday, my students complete and turn in their choice boards for the week, which is what I grade. I grade the boards out of 5-- 1 point for each completed choice (3 points total), 1 point for completing three in a row, 1/2 a point for name, and 1/2 a point for date. In that sense, it's essentially a completion grade. If I have any doubt that the kids are completing the tasks, I can check the tablet, but I purposely set the room up so I can see all kids at all times from my small group table. 

Complicated as this may sound, once I got this system set up at the beginning of the year, it was the LEAST amount of work to maintain out of any other centers system I've used. You can use the same schedule and routines all year, which makes lesson planning so much easier! And after a couple weeks, the kids have it DOWN. Whenever I got a new student, I would just have them "shadow" another student in their group. That student would always take so much pride in showing the new one how everything works! Because the students have choice in the tasks they complete, I found student engagement to be very high. And if this STILL seems like a lot-- simplify it! And guess what? If you don't change out all the tasks on the 1st of the month, nothing horrible will happen. I had to remind myself of that when I just had too many things on my to-do list.

I really hope getting a glimpse (okay, more of a long look) into my rotations will help you plan your own centers this year! If you want to get a jumpstart on tasks you can use all year, you can snag my Centers by Design Bundle to save almost 50% over buying each center individually. 

Search #spedchatsaturday to find more tips for the special education classroom!

Thursday, August 10, 2017

4 Anchor Charts for Teaching Nonfiction

As much as I love teaching with my beloved Harry Potter, my students have to be able to read and analyze informational texts as well! With the right tools, nonfiction can be just as engaging and accessible as fiction texts. Here are a few of my favorite anchor charts I use to introduce my students to nonfiction skills & strategies:

Introducing Nonfiction

I prepared the first 2/3 of the poster beforehand and uncovered the bullets line by line as I modeled observing these aspects in a nonfiction text. I brainstormed nonfiction topics with my students and added them to the chart during our lesson.

Identifying the Main Idea

Identifying the main idea is an important skill for students in any grade. This was a really challenging concept for a few of my students, and they kept getting slammed on running records and standardized tests. The "clues" listed on this anchor chart helped make the main idea more concrete for some of my students who couldn't just simply answer what the text was mostly about.

Identifying Fact vs. Opinion

I was really taken aback that my students had such trouble differentiating between fact and opinion! They kept defaulting back to true and false. This chart helped them see the difference.

Non-Fiction Text Structure

This chart was inspired by The Classroom Key's wonderful Nonfiction Text Structures Pack! We spent several weeks on this, and the students constantly referred back to the chart to independently identify the text structure and describe it using the appropriate graphic organizer.

If you're looking for more anchor charts, check out my post on Cultivating a Growth Mindset in Your Students!

Monday, July 24, 2017

7 Things You Can Do As An Inclusion Teacher

Ah, co-teaching. So magical at its best, so soul-destroying at its worst. I've had amazing partnerships with co-teachers and... not so amazing ones. But even when you get along with your co-teacher, a lack of planning time or a weird schedule (like 30 minutes twice a week... anyone?) can mean that you feel a bit useless. So what can you do rather than hover anxiously (and annoyingly) over the students you're providing minutes for? I have a few suggestions:

1. Pull a small group. This is the most obvious and most utilized solution to standing around doing nothing. Keep in mind that it doesn't always need to be students with IEPs, and that your group shouldn't become a special education class within a class. If you have a common planning time and a relationship with your co-teacher, you can set up formal groups for your subject, and you can even rotate through so you both see all students. If you're just "popping in" to provide services, try giving students the option to work with you, rather than mandating it. After students are released to work independently, try telling the whole class that students who feel like they need more help can join you on the rug or at a back table. 

2. Record on the anchor chart. The mini-lesson can be the hardest time to contribute, in this teacher's opinion! In a well-managed class, all the students may be quiet and attentive during the mini-lesson, which doesn't leave you much to do! You can team up with your co-teacher to create or add to the anchor chart as she leads the lesson, or vice versa.

3. Provide behavior support. Make sure you and your co-teacher are on the same page for your management system, and then help implement it! If students have any sort of incentive system, it can be easy for the gen ed teacher to forget to use it. As an additional teacher in the room, you can provide incentives and manage behavior data as needed.

4. Read aloud. Many classrooms have a more relaxed read aloud time (rather than a mini-lesson) at some point during the day. Offering to do the read-aloud may help engage students, since they're likely hearing their gen ed teacher's voice all day, and it can also give the gen ed teacher a chance to do 1:1 assessments or any other non-whole group task.

5. Assess. Speaking of assessment... having a co-teacher really helps cut down on instructional time wasted for assessment. Of course, as special ed teachers, we have plenty of our own assessing to do. Still, many schools require 1:1 assessments for general education students as well, especially in the primary grades. This is a huge amount of work for our general education co-teachers! Without a co-teacher, gen ed teachers might be forced to simply provide the other students with "busy work" as they spend hours on 1:1 testing. You can teach while your co-teacher assesses, the reverse, or you can alternate to cut down on the tedium of having students count to 120 as fast as they can (mClass, anyone?)

6. Record instructions. Last year, my co-teacher did an awesome job giving explicit, step-by-step instructions for each assignment. But many of our students are simply not auditory learners! We can help foster independence by recording the steps for a task up on the board in simple language. That way, students can refer back to the instructions on the board rather than having to ask for help.

7. Take over specific tasks. Some general education teachers may be unsure whether it's okay for you to be doing anything other than directly helping the students on your caseload. But having two teachers in the room can be a benefit to all students! By taking over certain tasks, you can help make the classroom run more efficiently, which is a benefit to ALL students. Some tasks I have "taken over" in a co-teaching setting include morning work, checking multiplication fact tests, attendance, lunch count, providing incentives, and running bathroom breaks. As a special education teacher, you're not an assistant, but it doesn't mean you can't share in general classroom duties. 

Happy co-teaching!