Today I was thinking about Robin Williams and also about advice I was asked to give to a new special education teacher when I came across this quote from the movie Patch Adams: "You treat a disease, you win, you lose. You treat a person, I guarantee you, you’ll win, no matter what the outcome."
This quote sums up what I have learned is most important to the success of my students. I have never had two students whose disabilities were alike despite sharing similar categorical labels of autism, ADHD, learning disabled, etc. Every child's interests, learning styles, and needs are vastly different, and remembering the person first and not the disability is the most important step to creating a great classroom and plan for each student. At times, it can be scary to read the labels on IEPs and evaluation reports and wonder how a particular student will ever be helped, but if you focus on treating each student as a unique and special person, then the rest will come much more easily. I promise.
One of the things I love most about the new Common Core standards is its focus on non-fiction texts. Don't get me wrong. I love teaching great fiction, but I know that my students will probably need better non-fiction skills to survive college and in the workplace. Part of teaching non-fiction is introducing students to the different parts of non-fiction books, so they can gain information in an efficient manner.
One way I have been teaching this over the past few years is by relating the parts of non-fiction to the parts of the body.
First, I have students grab a big piece of paper. They find a partner to trace them on the paper. I don't tell them anything else and ask them to put it away to build their anticipation. Next, we do a KWL type activity where I ask students to tell me what they think they know about non-fiction. These two parts are it for Day 1. Over the course of a week, I begin to introduce the parts of the non-fiction and we put them on our "bodies". I start with the beginning of a book and discuss that each book has a title, author/illustrator, and title page. These are all things that get put on the head. On the neck goes the Table of Contents because it is the gateway to the rest of your body (book). Next we skip down to the feet and learn about the glossary and index. These come at the end of books and help support our body (book). Finally, we begin to cover all that makes up the "meat" of the book on the main body including chapter headings, keywords, maps, drawings, photographs, charts, diagrams, labels, etc.
I think the multi-sensory component of drawing and visualizing each part really helps give meaning to students. Every time I have taught non-fiction parts this way all of my students have scored a 100% on their assessments, so I'd highly recommend it to other teachers.
P.S. - Shout out to Lori Desautels, my student teaching advisor, for inspiring me to try this idea my very first year of teaching. It's been a staple activity ever since. I'd highly recommend checking out Lori's website called How May I Serve You. It has great insights for teachers.
I'll be honest - I have a fear of commitment in every aspect of my life, but particularly in staying in one place for too long. I have moved over 18 times during my 27 years of life. Sometimes I wonder if I might be addicted to change, but I just took a step forward towards staying in our rural town at least one more year because I signed my teaching contract for 2014-2015. I may have been the very last person (by weeks) at my school to sign it and my school secretary may or may not have had to send many email "reminders" but regardless I signed it.
Both my friends that live in urban and rural areas are constantly asking me why I moved from the San Francisco Bay Area to a small village (not even considered a town) with a population of 876 in rural Wisconsin. For a while I never had a good answer for either group of friends, but today while I was walking our dogs around the park next door to us, I couldn't help but smile in thinking about how lovely life has been over the past 18 months.
I signed my contract to live and work in this small area because:
Alright...I'll admit it. My name is Candace, and I have a bit of an obsession with unschooling. Oh, and did I mention that I'm a public school educator? Talk about a bit of a paradox! I take solace in the fact that John Holt was also a public school teacher and the founder of unschooling -- a type of homeschooling which essentially let's
children set their own curriculum based on their interests.
I first got connected with the principles of unschooling back in 2011 when I was living in Costa Rica and working with a really lovely family who was starting the process of unschooling for their two oldest children. People who are interested in the beginning of this love affair can read my original blog posts here and here.
The next step in my journey was working for an experiential summer camp who focused on unschooling principles that allowed children to choose their own activities. My direct supervisor actually was unschooling his own children, so I got to see firsthand how it worked for younger children.
This took me to a weekend of an unschooling conference called Wide Sky Days where I was able to meet with a multitude of families and children who were participating in unschooling. I was blown away by their intelligence and passion for learning.
Even though I am a public school teacher, I am still a huge advocate for unschooling for families that have the luxury to support their children's interests and education in this manner. I believe many of the habits practiced by unschoolers can be used in the classroom, especially regarding creating life-long, self-directed learners.
Recently, I got the privilege to help edit and read the first draft of Blake Boles' (whom I met at the Wide Sky Days conference) new book on The Art of Self-Directed Learning, and I would highly recommend it for those interested in these topics. Blake has a Kickstarter campaign going on at the moment and he has one day left before it closes. There are a lot of great incentives (including a copy of the book) for donating even just $3.
You can also check out some of my other favorite unschooling books here:
I have a confession to make. When I first started teaching Wilson Reading System, I thought the program was really BORING. I wondered how I was going to repeat the same types of lessons over and over, but then I realized that it wasn't the program that had a problem, it was me! I decided to start thinking of ways to make the material more engaging and began my Wilson Game Day on Fridays. We have been having a lot of fun playing games to reinforce the phonics skills we are working on (see my last blog post for ideas), but last Friday my students told me that what they really wanted to do was read the silly passages and make them into plays to act out for our class. Unfortunately, the passages are pretty short, so I decided instead to begin writing my own Reader's Theater scripts for each Wilson objective for our class to perform.
Thus, I give to you my first paid product on Teacher's Pay Teachers: "The Jam". A play about a boy who is in search of his favorite jam and the trials and tribulations he faces to find it. The play focuses on using words in the Wilson 1.5 objective (am and an welded sounds), but it also includes words from the previous objectives as well as fairly easy sight words.
The benefits of using Reader's Theater are numerous. First, it helps kids tremendously with fluency. Kids read through the words countless times to practice. Second, it builds confidence in students when they "perform" and can see how beautifully they sound when reading. Third and most importantly, it brings a lot of joy and creativity to the classroom. I hope others get a kick out of this product and can use it in their classrooms.
I started teaching a neat phonics/reading fluency program last month called the Wilson Reading System after going through a 3-day training. Wilson is part of a suite of products from Wilson Language Training including Fundations and Just Words. Currently, we use Fundations for our PK-3rd grade classrooms at my school and Just Words for about half of our 4th graders who need additional reading support. Wilson is a Tier 3 small group intervention for students who typically have dyslexia and can be taught from third grade through adulthood.
My Wilson group is a mix of third and fourth graders and 75% of them have a diagnosed reading specific learning disability. All Wilson groups start at the same spot regardless of past reading achievement or exposure. The lessons are highly repetitive and unfortunately cannot be planned more than a day in advance (two things I strongly dislike as a teacher). I figured my students would hate the repetitive nature of each lesson (because I won't lie it's not my most fun class to plan), but it's actually been a good reminder that content can be made fun no matter what it is as long as you believe in what you are teaching, have some good classroom management skills, and establish a fun classroom culture.
In Wilson, we do a lot of reading "Dick and Jane" type sentences and passages. The first time I read these I wanted to stab my eyes out, but then a student had the great idea to act out one of the sentences: Jim had a cut on his leg. You can only imagine the impressive war wounds Jim experienced. Now we end up reading these sentences over and over through doing things like charades (you can't win unless you have perfect fluency) and partner interpretive reading.
We also have a Wilson Friday Game Day (encouraged by the founders of Wilson actually) where I have been introducing a different game each week to go along with the step we are on. I have so far been able to find a lot of great games on the FCRR website that align closely to our objectives. I will post the games I find for other teachers to use in case they find them helpful. Here are my games so far. These have all been tried and approved by my group:
1.3: Students learn all the short vowel sounds, consonants, and the digraphs of th, sh, wh, ch, and ck.
I used several of my different short vowel phonics games. I'll post more specifics later, but these were things I already had on the shelf.
1.4: Students learn that they should double the final l, s, and f in words with short vowels. Example: miss, fill, staff. They also learn about the welded sound -all. Example: ball.
1.5: Students learn about the welded sounds -an and -am. Example: ham, pan.
This week my 3rd grade special education students and I have been practicing the skill of inferencing. We used the book Erandi’s Braids as our anchor text, and I created this anchor chart to go along with the book. I found this book to be an engaging one for teaching inferencing. Students wrote their inferences on post-it-notes and got to put them up on the chart.
Prior to reading Erandi’s Braids together, we played a game to introduce the skill of inferencing by looking through my backpack and making inferences about why I have particular things in my backpack. I found this picture on Pinterest that inspired me.
I also found some great worksheets online to reinforce the skill through mini-passages. These worked nicely as quick assessments to check for understanding. You can check them out here:
You can also check out my Pinterest board on inferencing for more inspiration: http://www.pinterest.com/kissinger86/inferencing/
Candace Burckhardt is an international education consultant with an emphasis on special education, English learners, and social-emotional learning.