How to Find Balance with Virtual Learning

Love or hate it, virtual learning has become our new reality. As a reading interventionist and kindergarten teacher, this has been a difficult and daunting shift for us as we wholeheartedly believe in multi-modal, hands-on instruction.

One of our biggest challenges has been keeping young children engaged and motivated during virtual learning. It is important for us to find balance between screen time and authentic, hands-on learning. Here are our top 4 ways we’ve enhanced virtual learning for our students: Read more

Rhyming Made Easy

“Reggie the Rhyming Raccoon is my name.
Learning to rhyme is my game!
When words rhyme, they have the same ending sound–
You can hear this in the words ground and found.
I’ll teach you to hear and find the rhyme.
With my help, you’ll rhyme on your own in no time!” Read more

How to Boost Reading Fluency during Remote Learning

Like many other educators, I’ve been missing my students greatly and have been trying to wrap my head around providing quality specialized intervention instruction during distance learning and remote instruction.

 

Most of my students have goals in the area of reading fluency. During the school year we used a variety of strategies to increase their fluency. One of our most effective strategies was Repeated Reading. In the Repeated Reading strategy, students read the same short passage of text several times, improving with each time they read. Repeated Reading has been shown to improve decoding automaticity, phrasing, comprehension, rate and confidence.

Read more

Mother’s Day Mother of the Year Writing & Art Project

Mother’s Day is right around the corner and what better way to celebrate Mom than with her own Mother of the Year magazine cover and article. Inspired by Time Magazine’s Woman of the Year issue, this persuasive writing and art unit teaches students how to systematically write a five-paragraph essay all about Mom. In honor of mothers everywhere,  this unit is FREE until Sunday! Click here to download now. Read more

Holiday Survival Guide for Teachers

Our school recently kicked off the holiday season with a Winter Wonderland celebration this past week.  In Arizona, that means delivering 12 tons of snow to school grounds!  The kids are super excited for all of the wonders of this magical season.  It can be difficult to fall into the trap of filling December up with a variety of holiday fluff activities.  Don’t let yourselves make that mistake and waste weeks of instructional time.  Holiday activities and lessons can be both rigorous AND fun!!!  We’ve created CCSS aligned integrated literature units that use anchor texts to support a variety of standards in engaging and interactive ways.  Check out these great tools to help you survive the craziness of the holiday season…

Christmas Essentials: An Integrated Common Core Unit 

http://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Christmas-Essentials-An-Integrated-K-3-Common-Core-Unit-995239

Hanukkah Essentials: An Integrated Common Core Unit

http://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Hanukkah-Essentials-An-Integrated-K-3-Common-Core-Unit-972943

Holiday Fun FREEBIES

http://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Holiday-Fun-Freebies-995333

Winter Break Phonics Packet

http://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Winter-Break-Packet-Phonics-Decoding-2-Syllable-Words-990704

In addition, to keep students motivated and working hard, download our Reindeer in the Room: Holiday Behavior System.  We completely understand that these next few weeks can seem like pure torture as students seem to get wilder by the minute.

http://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Reindeer-in-the-Room-Holiday-Behavior-System-445306

Reindeer in the Room is the perfect solution for maintaining a calm, productive classroom during the holiday season. A special reindeer, only used by teachers, is sent to watch over the classroom and this reindeer reports nightly to Santa. Each day the reindeer watches the classroom and he/she picks one student who demonstrates outstanding behavior; this student gets an antler award. The students who did not make good behavior choices (i.e. shouting out incomplete homework, etc.) will get a big hoof, telling them to stomp out misbehavior. The reindeer moves each morning after he gets back from the North Pole.

home-995239-1 home-972943-1Reindeer Cover

Move Over Elf on the Shelf–The Reindeer is in the Room

Is Christmas craziness taking over your classroom? As a veteran teacher, I’ve tried every behavior management trick and technique to calm holiday chaos that predictably arrives every year around December 1 and have found limited success. These three weeks should be full of fun and learning, but for years they left me exasperated and exhausted. I decided to take back control with Reindeer in the Room, the teacher’s version of Elf on the Shelf. Just like the Elf on a Shelf, the Reindeer in the Room features a special helper (a reindeer) who is sent to watch over the classroom and reports nightly to Santa.   It’s made a tremendous difference in my classroom and I’m excited to share this idea with other teachers. Follow these easy steps to introduce Reindeer in the Room to your class:
1.Purchase a small reindeer. I found my reindeer at the Hallmark store but I’ve seen them everywhere including the Target Dollar Section.

2. Activate background knowledge and build excitement.  I call the students to the carpet and I read Elf on a Shelf to introduce Reindeer in the Room. The majority of students have an elf at home and it is a perfect connection to the Reindeer in the Room. I explain that Santa sends elves to watch children at home, but Santa gives teachers an extra special helper, a reindeer. He comes down from the North Pole and gives Santa a daily behavior report. This report provides valuable information to Santa because education is very important to him. Santa expects that all children listen, participate, and give their best effort.

3. Introduce Reindeer in the Room. Show students the reindeer and read the accompanying poem. Explain that the reindeer works just like the elf, watching the class carefully and then reporting to Santa each night.
Each day the reindeer will give a special antler reward to one or two well-behaved students. The reindeer will also leave a hoof on the desks of misbehaved students as a symbol to “stomp out” poor behavior immediately.

4. Record reindeer promises. Discuss behavior goals with the class and record on board. Students write 3 individual behavior goals and record them on the Reindeer Promise sheet. Explain that the reindeer reads these goals and watches students’ progress towards them.
5. Create a  Reindeer in the Room on a bulletin board. Prominently display promises on a Reindeer in the Room bulletin board.
6 .Move the reindeer nightly and award antlers and hand out hooves. In order to determine who receives the antler and hoof each day, I take quick notes on a Post-It throughout the day. I specifically look for students that I see going above and beyond (helping others, picking up trash on playground, etc.). I select one student to get an antler award; I place the antler headband, printable antler certificate and Santa chocolate on student’s desk before I leave work for the night. I give a hoof to any student who lost a star (as part of my classroom behavior plan) or who has a messy desk. I place the hoof printable and coal on the student’s desk.

Antlers and hooves can easily be used with existing behavior systems. For example, antlers can be given to students who get to blue (excellent behavior) and hooves can be given for students who go to yellow or red on stoplight behavior system. There are days when no one gets a hoof. I track antlers and hooves in my grade book to ensure that everyone (or most) will get an antler award.

7. Move the reindeer nightly. Each night before I leave school, I move the reindeer to a new location. I try to get creative and also make sure that the reindeer has a good view of the classroom to carefully watch behavior.

Students are so excited to discover the reindeer’s new location and see who earned antlers and who got hoofed. I briefly discuss this with students before we go over the schedule and take attendance in the morning. It sets the tone for the day and reminds them about their behavior goals.

8. Have fun! Download Reindeer in the Room to calm the Christmas chaos in your classroom.  I’d love to see pictures of your Reindeer in the Room in action.

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The Ugly Truth About Halloween

Halloween is just around the corner and kids are focused on costumes, candy and creepy creatures–it’s enough to make you batty before Halloween even arrives! It’s tempting to use Halloween coloring pages and other fluffy activities to keep students calm and help maintain your sanity, but don’t succumb to the pressure. Here are 5 secrets for creating engaging, academic Halloween activities:
1. Select an interesting topic: Most students love bats so I created Going Batty: A Stellaluna and Nonfiction Bat Unit. This comprehensive book study centers around our reading and writing strategy animals. It engages all learners while teaching research-based, standards-aligned decoding, comprehension and writing strategies within the context of authentic text. Students retell, compare and contrast characters, determine cause and effect, use text evidence to analyze character traits, make text connections, ask and answer questions using text and participate in shared bat research2. Decorate classroom: I turned Hazel’s Reading Roost, my guided reading area, into Hazel’s Reading Roost Visits the Bat Cave. I added a large bat from Party City and spider webbing for a creepy effect.

I added magnets to these 3-D bats, Beware, and Stay Out signs, all inexpensive treasures from Target’s Dollar section. I also found this adorable bat doormat at Target.

3. Incorporate dramatic play: Act out key vocabulary terms and the important events in the story to build comprehension and increase active engagement. Here are my students acting out a few Stellaluna vocabulary terms included in the book study.vocabulary 1

Bat Vocabulary

4. Integrate art: During our bat research, students ask questions, and use text features to find answers and record answers on this adorable bat foldable.  After they finish writing, they color, cut and fold bats and I hang them up in our Bat Cave. In this unit, students also create foldable KWL bats and write reports on a large bat template. Students also decorate and cut out both and I hang them from the ceiling with fishing wire, giving the bats a flying effect.

ask and answer questions

Bat question

5. Add food: Bring in food items or make a theme-based snack. Stellaluna eats mangoes, so I brought in one for students to touch and smell. I passed out small pieces for students to try; many had never tasted a mango before.

Mango

During the unit, I randomly hand out these chocolate eyeballs for on-task behavior, organized desks or any other positive behavior that I spot.

I've Got My Eye On You

At the end of the bat unit, students read a recipe and follow directions to make Bat Snacks, one of their absolute favorite activities.

Bat snack_600_2

Love these ideas? Download our complete Going Batty Unit, our FREE Bat KWL foldable and FREE Bat Name Tags, all guaranteed to keep students actively engaged in learning during the Halloween season.

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Fantasies of a Special Education Teacher

Are you exhausted? Are you suffocating under a mountain of IEP paperwork? Have you fantasized about applying for a job at the mall? Are you already dreaming about your next beach vacation? Do you wish you had more time for self-care?  Do your weekends consist solely of of Netflix and grading?  

As educators, we’ve experienced these same thoughts and more. It was only through the creation of these 4 life-changing intervention resources, that we’ve been able to find balance, have free time, and renewed joy in our careers.  

Let us help you avoid the special educator burn out. Download these ready-to-use resources to reach your ultimate teacher fantasy of work life balance. Having less planning, less stress, more free time, and increased effectiveness can be all yours with a simple click…

Special Education Ultimate Survival Kit

“The Special Education Survival Kit is amazing! I feel so organized and ready for the year thanks to this! After going through this, I feel like I have a rock solid foundation for the year in several areas. Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you!”
–Melissa, special educator

Reading Intervention Essentials Bundle

“I cannot say enough about how wonderful the Reading Intervention Essentials Bundle has been in planning and instructing literacy. The students absolutely love the animals, they are so motivational! I can’t wait to see what you come up with next!”
–Sam, reading interventionist

Phonics Intervention Bundle: Multisyllabic Words

“The Phonics Intervention Bundle is a WONDERFUL product! I’ve been looking for a strong product that uses multisyllabic words to teach the different syllable types. I’ve used this unit to patch some curriculum holes and round out our intervention materials for this skill. LOVE!”
–Jennifer, second grade teacher

Special Education Time-on-Task Observation Chart

“The Time-on-Task Observation Chart is so useful to track data. Saved me a ton of time! Assisted me with reporting focused talking points for parents.”
–Carly, special educator

Guided Reading Survival Guide Part 4

Guided reading challenging, even to veteran teachers because there are so many factors to consider. In my 4 part blog series, Guided Reading Survival Guide, I explain how to go beyond the basal and provide engaging, authentic supplemental texts; teach research-based strategies using our unique cast of strategy animals; and incorporate hands-on tools to motivate and engage students. In this last blog, I will explain how to integrate multiple strategies within the context of authentic text.

guided

Guided Reading Survival Guide Part 4: Integrating Strategies

Skills and strategies should be taught within the context of high-quality text rather than isolated splinter skills. Explicitly teach each strategy and provide ample practice for students to apply the strategy using authentic text during guided reading lessons and independent practice. As students demonstrate mastery, introduce additional strategies. The goal is for students to integrate and apply multiple strategies to develop deeper meaning of the text.

In my classroom: During whole group instruction, the class and I read the text at least 3 different times on 3 different days, each with a different strategy and purpose. For the first read, I focus on overall comprehension and retell of the literary elements or main ideas. During the second read, I focus on a specific skill such as character analysis or cause and effect. After the third read, I prompt students to make inferences, determine author’s purpose, and make connections. I practice the same strategies during small group instruction using leveled text.

Reading Strategies Poster_web

During whole group instruction, my students read, “Animals Building Homes” from our Journey basal and the Reading A-Z leveled text, “What Lives in This Hole?” during guided reading time. Each day, we practiced a different strategy.

supplemental-collage

Here are some samples of the graphic organizers that students completed to practice and apply strategies:

quinn-answer-questionsquinn-vocabularysharonvern

Word work should also be incorporated during reading instruction. I use Sally the Sounding-Out-Snake and Charlie the Chunking Chipmunk to incorporate word work from both the basal and guided reading texts. Students also use the Sounding-Out and Syllable Slates during spelling center to practice their weekly words or word work from the selected text.

sallycharliespelling-scaffolds

Reading Response Logs also help students synthesize strategies while they respond to text in written form. I first provide opportunities for discussion for students to formulate their thoughts. This can be difficult for young students, especially with students with language issues so I like to provide scaffolds and supports to help them be successful. I use Reading Response Sentence Stems (specific to each strategy) to help students respond to text.reading-response-log

While the Guided Reading Survival Guide blog series aimed to help teachers go beyond the basal, use research-based strategies, motivate and engage, and integrate multiple strategies, guided reading looks different on each campus. Check out our FREE Ultimate Guided Reading Templates to help streamline planning and instruction. Plus they are completely customizable! Each strategy unit can be purchased separately and all include detailed lesson plans, I Can posters, graphic organizers, printable hands-on tools, assessment options and much more! Check out our bundle options and our new hands-on tools as well.

I’d love to hear your experiences, successes, and questions about guided reading. Please comment below or email me at Jessica@astutehoot.com

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Celebrate Earth Day with The Lorax

Earth Day is fast approaching and with spring fever in full force, our engaging, comprehensive Lorax literature study is the perfect solution!

Our Lorax literature study integrates elements from our Guided Reading Strategies Bundle which teaches critical reading strategies in a child-friendly way. In our charming book, students meet Hazel the owl, a struggling reader, who stumbles upon a magical tree in the forest. Out of the tree appear 10 colorful woodland animals that each introduce a research-based CCSS reading strategy. These delightful animals and rhymed text motivate the most reluctant readers.

Bring the Lorax alive in your classroom in 4 easy steps:

 

1. Prepare Reading Response Journals.

Print Hazel Meets the Reading Strategy Animals and accompanying Reading Strategies Poster to introduce students to the each strategy animal. To create the journals, I printed the cover, Reading Strategies Poster, Sentence Stems, and Trait Tree in color and the Reading Response journal pages in black and white. I laminated the front and back cover and bound them for durability.

While there are pre-made reading response questions, select the amount of questions and the content of questions that are appropriate for your class. There is a blank journal page included for you to create your own reading response question(s) for differentiation purposes.

2. Create a Lorax bulletin board.


I projected a picture of the Lorax from Google Images and traced on orange and yellow poster board. I purchased yellow pool noodles from the Dollar Store and Truffula tufts from Hobby Lobby. Later in the week, students each made their own Lorax using the templates included in the unit and I added them to the bulletin board.

3. Make Truffula Tree pencils.


I purchased inexpensive glitter pom-poms from Amazon and glued them to the tops of pencils. Students used them to complete their journal entries and they were a huge hit!

4. Include supplemental activities.

 

At the end of the study, I had students make their own Lorax cover. First, they made a hand-print Lorax with orange paint, let it dry, and cut it out. Next, they used Sharpies and crayons to draw the background. Finally, they glued the Lorax on the cover.

During a reading center with a parent volunteer, students also read and followed directions to make a Truffula Tree snack using simple ingredients.

On the last day of our study, I brought in these adorable Lorax cookies made from Nutter Butters, yellow frosting, and Wilton candy eyes.

Do you have other Lorax ideas or fun Earth Day projects? Please share below.

Using Rubrics to Assess Progress Towards IEP Goals

Rubrics have been essential for my resource program this year. Rubrics are efficient tools to assess authentic student learning and growth. Instead of measuring a skill as correct/incorrect or simply generating a percentage score, rubrics allow us to assess holistically and offer a chance to incorporate quantitative and qualitative data.

Here are the top 5 benefits to using rubrics:

  • Evaluate performance:  Rubrics are used to evaluate student work by measuring it against set scoring criteria.  Using the scoring criteria allows teachers to objectively complete an error analysis, look for skill gaps, and determine the level of support or cues needed to complete a task or assignment. I use rubrics to assess progress towards IEP goals throughout the quarter.  In addition, I use rubrics to analyze work samples as part of initial evaluations and 3 year reevaluations to supplement the standardized testing data and generate baseline data for IEP goals.

 

  • Provide hierarchy of skill development: Rubrics include a task analysis and standards-aligned progression of skills required for mastery. This is helpful not only in showing student growth, but also helpful in designing instruction to address the specific skill gaps students may have.

 

  • Communicate with parents: Using the actual rubric itself or language from the rubric indicators on progress updates, provides parents with detailed information about how their child is progressing. It communicates specific information about skills and growth rather than just a score on an assessment. This year I added the criteria category of “Level of Support” with the indicators of “Independent,” “Minimal Support,” “Moderate Support,” and “Did not attempt.”  This has been extremely helpful when communicating progress.

 

  1. Define performance expectations: Teachers can use rubrics to set expectations for performance with students prior to starting an assignment.  I use the rubric to assess work completed during the modeling phase of instruction with the class. For example, after I model how to create a written response to text, I have the students check my work using the rubric to see if I included the essential components.  Students can also use the rubrics to self-assess and self-correct their work before turning in assignments.

 

  • Measure progress across time and settings:  Rubrics can be used with specifically designed tasks or assignments for progress monitoring, or with authentic curriculum-based work samples.  I attach the scoring rubrics to student work samples and save them in individualized portfolio binders. Students are able to see their growth throughout the school year, reflect on the progress, and set specific goals for improvement.

 

Rubrics could be using in general education, special education, for all subject areas, as well as for behavioral and social goals. Click on the links below to see sample rubrics I’ve individualized for students in my resource program. The rubrics should be modified and customized to meet the needs of students in your classroom based on grade level standards, IEP goals and specific learning needs.

Download our fully editable rubrics here!  The following rubrics for IEP goal progress monitoring are included:

  • Foundational Reading Skills
  • Reading Comprehension: Informational Text
  • Reading Comprehension: Narrative
  • Expository Writing
  • Narrative Writing
  • Written Response to Text
  • Math Problem Solving
  • Behavior and Social Skills

Considerations for IEP Goals:  When developing new IEP goals, write goals measured by the rubric’s criteria where appropriate.  For example, “Given a writing prompt based on a reading passage, the student will generate a written response to text using textual evidence, elaboration and correct conventions as measured by a score of at least #% on writing samples scored with a ‘Written Response to Text Rubric’ at least 3 times per quarter.” When updating progress on goals at the end of each quarter, I report the overall percentage on the scored rubric, along with details in the comment section to elaborate on the student’s progress.  Using indicators directly from the rubric helps to make the comments specific and informative. Furthermore, it is useful to attach the rubric to a student’s IEP. This helps parents understand how you will be measuring the skill and stays with the student if the student moves to another school.

Overall, I have found that rubrics have strengthened my ability to provide consistent, accurate progress data for students in an efficient manner. Rubrics can easily show growth over time and illustrate clear information about specific skills and progress towards standards. For more special education tips and tools, check out this blog.

 

Taking Intervention to the Next Level with Authentic Text

As a special education resource teacher, one of the biggest challenges I’ve seen students struggle with is transferring strategies they learn during intervention lessons to authentic text. Often times students can use their decoding skills in controlled text in the resource room, but fall apart when presented with literature, informational text and articles in the general education classroom.  Using a research-based, systematic phonics intervention is the foundation of a strong reading intervention program, but students also need opportunities to practice and apply skills with a variety text genres and complexity levels.  

In my resource room, I incorporate authentic text as a supplement to the Wilson Reading System.  Wilson is implemented with fidelity 3 days per week and on the remaining 2 days, students participate in a book study.  Currently, we are working on informational text using a variety of National Geographic Kids Readers.  Next quarter we plan to read a variety of popular literature. My students look forward to our book study days each week and are so motivated to read “real books.”  I love having the opportunity to provide scaffolded support and guidance while they read complex text.  I can coach them to apply strategies, provide immediate error correction, and build independence in safe, supportive environment.

Using a variety of authentic texts allows my lessons to be standards-based and IEP goal based, rather than limited by a particular boxed curriculum, basal reader or worksheet. Each day, I select several words from the text for students to apply their decoding skills using the Word Study printable.  I typically choose words that align with what students are learning in Wilson.  For example, if our Wilson lesson focuses on the -ing and -ed suffixes, I would choose words from the text which have -ing and -ed endings. It is great for students to make the connection between our phonics lessons and authentic text.

In addition, I choose one comprehension activity in which students can demonstrate their ability to read and understand text. The first time each activity is presented, I model the expectations and skills required. Using the printables from the Book Study Unit consistently helps students become familiar, successful and independent with each task.

 

 

We’ve created  ready-to-use book study units for a variety of books including: Henry and Mudge, Frog and Toad, Charlotte’s Web, Stellaluna, Black Lagoon, The Lorax, Miss Nelson is Missing, Last Day Blues and several National Geographic Kids Readers.  More titles coming soon!

In addition, we’ve assembled book study unit templates for informational text and literature so these strategies and resources could be customized to ANY book you’d like to use in your classroom. These activities build essential literacy skills, provide easy differentiation opportunities, and promote active engagement with our guided reading strategy animals. These book studies can be used in grades 1-3 with in a variety of settings: general education, special education, intervention, tutoring and ELL. It is recommended to use these templates with a variety of texts to help students master the skills, transfer and apply their strategies in meaningful ways.

These comprehensive book studies include:

  • Suggestions for Use
  • Lesson Activities
    o I Can Posters
    o Word Study Activities
    o Vocabulary Activities
    o Comprehension Activities
    o Fluency Activities
    o Response to Text
  • Assessments
  • Instructional Resources
  • Book Study Unit Plan Organizer

Download the Informational Text Book Study Templates, Literature Book Study Templates, and Ready-to-Use Book Studies today!  Comment below if you have a request for a specific book study unit.

Building Fluency with Animal Assisted Therapy

I’m excited to bring the Animals, Books and Children (ABC) program to our resource program this year!  Currently, I am piloting the program with 1st grade students and hope to expand to additional grade levels in the future.  

The ABC program will utilize Gabriel’s Angels therapy teams to help children improve their reading abilities, while also developing the core social behaviors of attachment, confidence, empathy and respect. The designated ABC therapy team (one handler & dog) read with the same three (3) children each week so that a trusting, secure relationship evolves. During a 20-minute time session, the individual child will have time to feel comfortable, work directly on reading skills, and conclude by engaging in an emotional and/or behavior development activity. A celebration ceremony will conclude each semester program duration.

This program takes place once a week in the resource room during the students’ regularly scheduled time. This is something that the students really look forward to and enjoy! Students rotate through 20 minute centers for differentiated, individualized instruction targeting their IEP goals. The 3 centers include:

1.  Fluency– Students will work the dog therapy team to practice rereading previously read books to build fluency.  When finished reading the book, the students will practice their sight words in a variety of hands-on activities.  Each book and sight word list is customized based on student data.  Students love the hands-on sight word activities from our Sight Word Intervention Bundle.

2. Phonics – Students will work with me to practice phonics skills as part of the Wilson Language System.  This 1:1 time is a perfect time for progress monitoring, addressing learning gaps, and reteaching skills that the students may have struggled with throughout the week.  To supplement Wilson, I use activities from our Reading Intervention Essentials Bundle.

3. Computers – Students will work on a Chromebook to review basic literacy skills or  practice keyboarding skills.  Some of our favorite websites include Moby Max, Starfall, Typing Club and Interactive Sites for Education.

I would love to hear how others have used animal assisted therapy in the classroom as well! Please comment below.

For more information about Gabriel’s Angels, check out their website here.

The Imposter Syndrome: Life as a Special Education Teacher

NEWLY REVISED ULTIMATE SPECIAL EDUCATION SURVIVAL KIT!

Today I had a rare moment: some peace and quiet at home and an opportunity to sit down and read a book.  As I was diving into Lean In, by Sheryl Sandberg I read about the “imposter syndrome”- the phenomenon of capable people being plagued by self-doubt.  It perfectly described how I felt as a special education teacher during my first few years in the classroom.  Even though I graduated with honors, received exemplary reviews from my principal, and made significant academic and behavioral gains with my students, I still sometimes felt as if I was a fraud and didn’t belong the classroom.  Eventually those feelings faded as I continued my education and experience, but I wished that I had some resources at the beginning of my career that would have helped me feel more confident and be more effective in my role. Although sometimes I felt as if I was using trial and error to best reach my students, I know that that I always gave them 110% and feel so blessed to have been a part of their lives.

When I was working with pre-service and first year teachers, I wanted to impart my knowledge and experience to not only them, but to all teachers working with students with special needs.   After 19 years of teaching special education, I’ve gathered my top resources and bundled them together for the “Ultimate Special Education Survival Kit.” Now, that I’m back in the classroom, I recently revised and updated several resources and forms to be even more effective. The following resources are in a zip file, with a total of 165+ pages, including a ton of new FULLY EDITABLE resources for easy customization:

-Beginning of the Year Checklist for Special Education
-Beginning of the Year Welcome Letter from Special Education Teacher
-Co-Teaching Guide
-Co-Teaching Weekly Collaboration Agenda
-IEP at a Glance
-IEP Goal Bank
-IEP Goal Tracking for Small Groups
-IEP Progress Monitoring Calendar
-IEP Goal Tracking for Caseload
-General Academic Interventions
-Behavioral Interventions
-Reading Interventions
-Writing Interventions
-Math Interventions
-Lesson Plan Differentiation Checklist
-Lesson Plan for Specialized Instruction
-Paraprofessional Roles and Responsibilities
-Parent Input Form
-Progress Monitoring Data Trackers
-Special Education Caseload Organizer
-Special Education Due Date Tracker
-Special Education Master Schedule
-Teacher Input Form
-Time on Task Observation
-Reading Foundational Skills Rubric
-Reading Comprehension: Literature Rubric
-Reaching Comprehension: Informational Rubric
-Narrative Writing Rubric
-Expository Writing Rubric
-Written Response to Text Rubric
-Math Problem Rubric

Work smarter not harder! Don’t be stressed out…LOVE your special education career with these ready-to-use tools, assessments, and templates that will make your life so much easier.

http://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Ultimate-Special-Education-Survival-Kit-744321

*Reposted and updated from original post in 2013*

Dos and Don’ts of Behavior Reflection

Do you struggle with helping students process their behaviors and learn to make better choices? Are your time-outs ineffective? Are your students repeating the same negative behaviors?  Having strategies for effective behavior reflection is critical to creating a positive learning environment (and staying sane).

Dos

  • Choose the appropriate behavior reflection form based on your students’ levels (reading, developmental, age, etc.)
  • Present this tool to the student in a 1:1 setting after their behavior has deescalated and they are ready to reflect
  • Provide supports in completion (e.g., teacher prompting, student can dictate to adult)
  • Select, model and practice appropriate replacement behaviors for the future
  • Guide student to write an apology letter to help them realize how their behavior affects others
  • Copy and send home for parental signature; save original in student file for behavior documentation and data collection

Don’ts

  • Use for every minor behavior infraction; instead focus on target behavior(s) and/or moderate to severe issues
  • Present and discuss in front of whole class
  • Forget to review and discuss the behavior reflection and appropriate replacement behaviors with student
  • Overlook positive behaviors and attempts to make better choices

Two versions of the Think Sheet are included, as well as a template for an apology letter.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Download the Think Sheet and other helpful behaviors tools here!

 

Don’t Teach Another Phonics Lesson Until You Read This…

As a resource teacher, I use specialized instruction in my intervention groups to help my students meet their IEP goals as well as make progress towards grade level standards. While implementing the district prescribed intervention curriculum, Wilson Reading System, I discovered a few key things about the way students learn:

1.Systematic, direct and explicit phonics instruction is essential in helping students with learning disabilities master the alphabetic code-breaking skills needed for foundational reading proficiency.

2.Students need a thorough understanding of a range of effective strategies, as well as knowing when and why to apply them within a variety of texts (e.g., controlled decodable text, authentic literature, meaningful non-fiction texts).

3.Motivation and engagement during reading instruction is a critical ingredient to student success.

Integrating all 3 components can be a challenge at times, but I’ve found great success with supplementing Wilson with our Astute Hoot reading strategy animals. Not only do my students consistently meet their IEP goals and make significant progress on district reading assessments, they LOVE coming to reading intervention and they are engaged throughout the entire lesson! (Let’s face it…sometimes direct instruction phonics programs can get boring for students and teachers).

Our strategy animals and accompanying resources have also been used to supplement and enhance other reading programs such as Fundations, Harcourt, Journeys, Spalding, Sonday and Reading A-Z. In addition, they are perfect for book studies and units using authentic literature and expository text.  Each lesson incorporates the following; Hands-on tools to make the strategies concrete and memorable;  Animal strategy friends to motivate and engage students; A variety of texts to promote transfer and application of skills.

Here’s how I teach reading in my K-4 resource room:

  • At the start of the year, I introduce the reading strategy animals to the students by reading Hazel Meets the Reading Strategy Animals and showing students our introductory video below to get them excited. Hazel Hoot, an adorable green screech owl, is a struggling learner as she lacks the strategies needed to help her succeed. In our charming book, Hazel stumbles upon a magical tree in the forest. Out of the tree appear 10 colorful woodland animals that each introduce a research-based, standards-aligned reading strategy. These animals guide Hazel to become a proficient reader.

  • I break down the 10 step Wilson Lesson by practicing the procedures and routines for one block at a time per session.  I use the reading strategy animals to help teach each part. Once students students understand the routine for each block, we combine multiple blocks in our lessons.

  • Authentic text is selected to incorporate into our weekly lessons to provide students the opportunity to apply their strategies in meaningful and relevant ways.  Currently, I’m using a variety of books from National Geographic Kids to boost their skills in reading informational text.

Check out our reading strategy animals in action!

I laminated our Sally Sounding-Out Snake and Charlie Chunking Chipmunk graphic organizers and use them as part of Warm-Up Work at the start of each session. I just post 3 words on the board and students segment (one-syllable words) or syllabicate (multi-syllable words) and mark them as appropriate. I love that this is pretty much NO PREP and it is a perfect time to review concepts with which students struggled in the previous lesson or preview concepts for the upcoming lesson.

Students love using Paco the Pointing Porcupine for Quick Drill and Quick Drill in Reverse to name letters and sounds!  The hands-on tools keeps them focused and on task. Paco also helps students with keeping their place during wordlist reading in the Wilson Student Readers.

Using the Sally Sounding-Out Snake and Charlie Chunking Chipmunk Slates on the magnet letter boards provides a great visual support to help students with segmenting and syllabication.  They always want to make Sally and Charlie proud of their awesome reading skills!

Ramona the Re-Reading Raccoon keeps students motivated when reading students to build fluency and accuracy.

Sharon the Summarizing Squirrel is a student favorite!  Students use her “Tell the Tale” tool to touch each story element when we retell the story verbally.  A non-fiction version which includes main idea and details is also available.

Vern the Visualizing Vulture helps students master key vocabulary words by prompting students to visualize the meaning of the word and drawing a picture of of their visualizations.

Lastly, I posted the strategy posters and “I Can” statements on a bulletin board for easy reference for students.  Our “I Can” statements are aligned to IEP goals and state standards, as well as to a specific reading strategy.

Read more about our strategy animals here! Astute Hoot’s unique cast of strategy animals make learning safe and fun while teaching critical strategies in a child-friendly way. Students make an immediate connection to the animals and relate to Hazel’s struggles. These delightful animals and rhymed text motivate the most reluctant readers.  Our books, posters and hands-on tools are available for purchase here via digital download including printable do-it-yourself options of our tools.  Ready made tools and posters are available as intervention kits here.

I’d love to hear how you make phonics fun and engaging!  Check out some other special education blogs here:

Essentials of a Special Ed Resource Room

I’m so excited to be back in the classroom this year! After 14 years as a special education resource teacher, I changed gears to work in the capacity of an Instructional Coach and Special Education Coordinator in high needs schools. Although this work over the past 4 years has been rewarding, I’ve missed the direct, daily contact with students.

After I accepted my new position as a K-3 Special Education Resource Teacher, I quickly got to work in planning out my new classroom. I considered student need, layout, materials, and decor to prepare my room. I’m thrilled to share these 3 essential components of my new classroom with you!

1. Strategy-Based Bulletin Boards and Learning Centers:  I set up strategy-based bulletin boards that are being used to support and enhance district curriculum.  My students are already in love with all of the strategy animals!  Our strategies provide excellent interventions to use with any curriculum as they strengthen HOW students learn,  and do not necessarily change WHAT students learn. Here are some specific examples of how I incorporate our strategy animals into the curriculum.

Reading
Using the Wilson Language System, I incorporate our Sally Sounding-Out Slates or Charlie Syllable Slates to provide additional visual cues and practice to spell and decode words in isolation. These can also be used to focus on specific words in connected text to practice sounding out the phonograms. It not only makes learning fun, but it also helps struggling students who need additional support. This intervention uses the same content and Wilson instructional method, but provides a different format for practice and student response. Using the Slates and accompanying graphic organizers also provides a structured space for written dictation. Using our reading strategy animals along with a systematic, researched-based curriculum such as Wilson enhances motivation and investment, which is incredibly important for reluctant readers.

Reading Roost Photo

Math
Our math strategy animals fit in perfectly with the district curriculum. Students are expected to solve 2 or more word problems as part of the daily lessons. I introduce each of the Problem-Solving Pond strategy animals systematically as they correlate to the standards and concepts. As students become proficient with one strategy, I introduce another. After all strategies are introduced, students learn how to pick the most efficient strategy for the problem. Upton the Understanding Fish is used daily to help students complete the seven problem solving steps, explain thinking and justify solutions. Just as with Wilson, using these strategies does not alter or modify the curriculum in any way, it just enhances it and presents it in a way which students can grasp it more easily by making the concepts more concrete. Student connect with the strategy animals and are motivated to use various strategies to solve the problems. It also relieves math anxiety and builds independence by providing a toolbox of “animal friends” students can use to solve problems.

Problem-Solving Pond 2

Writing
There are 5 animal strategy characters which teach the writing process stages and 5 animals who focus on mechanics and conventions.  Writing can be especially difficult for students with special needs.
The strategy animals help eliminate writers’ block and encourage students to persist with writing stamina.  Because each animal has a specific job, it forces students to pay greater attention to each critical part of the writing process.

Writing in the Wild West

 

2.  Reading Corner: I set up an inviting and comfortable reading corner which has books organized by level and topic. My students love the Beanie Babies sitting on the bookcase.  They get to each pick one to read to on Fun Fridays to build fluency.  My favorite part of this area is the multi-sensory syllabication charts featuring Charlie the Chunking Chipmunk.  I attached pipe cleaners to the charts so students can practice chunking words into syllables.

LibraryCharlie

 

3.  Sensory Support:  Knowing that many of my new students would need support with sensory issues, I prepared various options for them.  I have flexible seating arrangements using wiggle cushions, exercise balls, and lap desks.  Also, I put together a sensory basket containing Play-Doh, squeeze balls, Legos, Unifix cubes and a timer for 2 of my students.  Lastly, I signed up for a Go Noodle account and we use this for brain breaks. 

Essentials Collage

The first few weeks of school have been amazing!  I’m so glad I followed my heart and returned back to the classroom.  Helping students with special needs truly is my calling.  I hope you enjoyed taking a peek into my new resource room. I’d love to hear about how you set up your resource room too!  Please comment below.

See our strategy animals in action in this short video!

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TpT Back to School Sale 2017

As veteran teachers, we know that the beginning of year often means countless meetings, endless hours of preparation and a great deal of stress. We are here to help! Our tried-and-true Back to School resources are guaranteed to help you work smarter, not harder. Plus, they’re all ON SALE! Visit our TeachersPayTeachers store and use code BTS2017 for 25% off the entire store! Check out a few of our top-rated, best-sellers below:

Best of Back to School Lesson Plans & Activities:  This unit focuses on establishing procedures, explaining expectations and building classroom community while creating an organized, efficient schedule with minimal preparation. Our comprehensive first week lesson plans  include 50+ interactive, engaging activities with objectives & detailed instructions, homework ideas, daily math lessons and art projects.

Golden Keys to Success Classroom Management Plan: Golden Keys to Success is an efficient behavior management program that builds character, promotes self-monitoring and ensures high behavioral expectations. This program has made a huge difference in my students’ behavior because it teaches them to be responsible for daily choices. Golden Keys to Success focuses on 5 important life skills and qualities that students need to become successful citizens. This 90 page unit includes 21 detailed lessons with essential questions and quality literature, 34 engaging activities and projects, a Weekly Responsibility Chart (for students) and a parent brochure with overview of program, consequences and helpful parent tips.

Math Intervention: Problem Solving Essentials Bundle:  Our Math Intervention Problem Solving Essentials Bundle provides an entire year’s worth of Common Core aligned, differentiated problem-solving activities to give students the strategies they need to solve word problems. Perfect for general education, special education, RTI and math intervention! Can be used with students in grades Kindergarten, first, second and third. This 200 page file has all of the lessons, activities, worksheets, printables you need for comprehensive problem-solving instruction during math intervention, special education and general education. This is a perfect math intervention supplement to any existing curriculum or can be used as a stand alone resource.

Writing Intervention Tools for RTI and Special Education: Do you have students who are struggling to write and get their ideas down on paper? These special education writing resources will help even the most reluctant writers experience success and increase their independence with the writing process. This is a great writing intervention tool for special education classrooms, ELL, RTI and/or for differentiation within the general education classroom. Resources can be used for various writing topics and assignments.

This unit systematically guides students through the writing process and teaches critical strategies in a child-friendly way. In our charming book, students meet Hazel the owl, a struggling writer, who takes a vacation to the desert to visit Grandma Hoot. Grandma suggests that Hazel take a hike for writing inspiration and along the way she meets 10 animals; 5 that teach the writing process and 5 that teach writing mechanics.

Reading Intervention Essentials Bundle: Looking for a complete reading K-3 reading intervention kit that includes fluency, comprehension, sight words, and phonics activities? Need engaging and motivating reading supplemental products to enhance your existing curriculum? With over 25 years combined experience in special education, general education, and reading intervention, we have bundled our top reading products to create a 515 page “Reading Intervention Essentials Bundle” for only $25. Purchased separately, these items would cost over $65. These activities, lessons, graphic organizers, posters, assessments, and printables have been proven to make significant reading gains in not only our classrooms, but classrooms across the country. These are a great supplement to any general ed or special ed curriculum. This Reading Intervention Bundle contains more than a whole YEAR’s worth of phonics instruction with 15 individual units.

We hope that these products reduce that dreaded back to school stress and make your life easier. Happy New Year!

 

Meaningful (& FREE) Valentine Gifts for Kids

As Valentine’s Day nears, teachers everywhere are scouring their local Dollar Stores and Target Dollar sections for the perfect holiday-themed trinkets. This pursuit of the perfect, “inexpensive” gift often leaves teachers exhausted and broke. Plus, these gifts often end up in the bottoms of backpacks and shoved in desks, never to be seen again. Save time and money with these three meaningful gift ideas that your students will remember for years to come.1. Write personalized desk notes: Use dry erase markers to write a personalized note on each student’s desk. They will absolutely LOVE reading these kind words and sharing the compliments with their friends. Give students baby wipes to easily remove notes, leaving clean desks in the process (an added bonus).

2. Create 14 Reasons I Love You: Each day leading up to Valentine’s Day, leave a heart with a quick note about something you admire, enjoy, or appreciate about your students. Starting next week? Simply add 2 or 3 hearts each day leading up to Valentine’s Day.

3. Give the gift of literature: Bank your Scholastic bonus points and use them to order leveled, holiday-themed books. Add a short, personalized note inside as the final touch.Check out our FREE owl-themed Valentine cards and give yourself a Valentine gift with 28% off on our TpT Store using promo code LOVETpT.

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