Thursday, September 29, 2005

Sacrificing one for the other....

So after having this ED/developmentally delayed kid since the last weeks of his kindergarten year, he is finally settled enough to begin to learn to read and do math....finally. He is benefitting from my unusually small group size, and the boys who for years have tortured him for being slow have moved to another classroom.

And now the principal is proposing with vigor that we move my kid out of my class and into the other primary ED class. The kid's little sister is creating chaos in her general ed first grade classroom, and she wants to place her right away into my classroom. An alternative placement. No IEP. Just slip her in. And the brother is yanked from a situation where he is finally succeeding....

This is the kind of sh*it that keeps me up at night. There is no really good answer.

In years past, I have had twins who needed self contained ED services, and one stayed with me, and the other went to the closest ED program nearby. That's how you meet kids' needs.

I'm told the county no longer does this.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Continued..... Characteristics of Effective ED Teachers..

Item #4) I create a learning environment that supports active, easily distracted students; I plan for reduced disruptions via my classroom arrangement, planned schedule, and active lesson delivery.

Successful learning environments are purposely designed to meet the needs of the students assigned to that space. It’s a matter of intention. With my ADHD, explosive, anxious, and/or unmotivated students, I can’t let much of anything in my classroom JUST HAPPEN.

I plan where each child will sit with care and thoughtfulness. It’s more than a question of who is sitting by whom.

• Explosive kids need easy pathways out of the room; put him at the back of the room and be ready for everything in his path to be knocked over or torn down.

• My anxious student needs to know I am close at hand, but the spot next to my desk (a conventional placement) is actually rather isolated. Better to move her near the meeting area through which I move several times an hour. Her desk is also by the workshop table, so an additional chair is within grabbing distance when she needs me RIGHT… THIS….. MINUTE!

• My autistic child periodically goes in spurts of talking to himself in fast jags. At these times he is disruptive and even alittle disturbing. He is highly distractable and is prone to getting up and running. So his desk is located against the wall, facing the wall, between two low shelves. His IA sits just behind him, in part to prevent his quick escape.

• My oppositional little one (a first grader who is not used to having to meet expectations… he’s usually the one who rules the roost) sits just inside the classroom. The second he enters we scoot him to his desk with the express purpose of getting him to start his morning work immediately. If we had to escort him across the room, past others’ desks, the block shelf, the lego buckets, and art table, he’d never get there! As the year goes on, as he demonstrates improved cooperation, we’ll move him further from the door.

At the elementary level, I am more in control of my schedule than middle and high school teachers. This year though, the administrators assigned each grade level an hour and a half language arts block to assure that specials and other activities do not dilute the powerful learning time dedicated to reading and writing instruction. It was a good move I think. I can still follow each learning activity with some desired, reinforcing activity like outside recess, play time at your desk, computer time, etc. When kids come to understand that the next fun things do not happen for them until the work is done, the work usually gets done. The variable is how long it takes for a child to come to believe we mean what we say and say what we mean. Again, it’s a matter of intention.

Finally, I stand with good teachers everywhere who choose their teaching activities with academic expectations (planned outcomes), and students’ strengths and weaknesses in mind.

• At this point in the year, I absolutely cannot give one of my first graders independent written work. His poor fine motor skills preclude his writing with any measure of success. The OT is working hard with this child, and we do our part in the classroom to help remediate his pencil/paper skills, but I’m no fool. Giving him an extended writing assignment is tantamount to inviting a tantrum. (We call that “setting him up”.) Better to teach and assess his learning alernatively. (For example, he pastes little number cards on his math paper to indicate his answer.)

And one last thought: By manipulating the classroom environment and lesson delivery to meet student needs, teachers are taking control of what is available to them. It’s a positive, productive path. As Theordore Roosevelt said, “ Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.”

Sunday, September 25, 2005

An Open Letter To My Teaching Partners... The IAs.

Your presence in the classroom can be make it or break it. I know it on days you are not here, and I especially know it when a clueless substitute is here to "assist" us. I know it when I feel relaxed about you counseling one of our troubled students, and when another of our cuties hugs you tight. When you juggle our various roles with ease, when you share a great idea or thoughtful insight, it's very clear that INSTRUCTIONAL ASSISTANT is a misnomer. You are a teacher.

Case in point: To meet our students' need for differentiation and very small group instruction, you are asked to teach. (This is true for many elementary special ed IAs.) Even though I prepare the lesson plan, your intuitive approach to each child and ability to react on a dime, both instructionally and personally, make the difference between success and failure. Your assessment notes are invaluable; I must be able to trust your observations. I'm lucky that I do, that I can.

You handle behavior on the playground; you manage the complications of lunch time in the cafeteria (NO SMALL FEAT!). You are required to meet NO CHILD LEFT BEHIND standards, and MY standards are not so easy either. Even better, you set high standards for yourself.

I guess what I'm saying is that your expertise, your ability to connect and nurture and guide our students is absolutely critical to their success. I owe you a tremendous debt of gratitude, as does the school as a whole.

Thanks for all you do. This could be the best year yet.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Thank goodness for the grandmother....

Do you notice a pattern? Day one and two of the school year. Darlene is cooperative, engaging, interested in learning. Trying hard. A joy to have in the classroom.

Day three.... her alter ego appears, unbridled. She enters the room with a loud, intrusive "Awwrruuppp!" She head butts me, grabs my waist and pulls hard. All day, she is in and out of the classsroom and the crisis room, unable, really, to sustain any sense of calm or focus.

Day four.....she is compliant, willing to work hard, alittle sleepy, but productive and loving.

Day five.... another screaming morning, tears, anger, lots of wild storytelling, off task, disruptive. Then grandma shows up.

"I went to the doctor and got her meds. Her mom wouldn't go and get the new refill, and she's been giving Darlene what was left on and off since school began."

Which explains the ups and downs.

We saw these kinds of cyclic, crazed behavior shifts ALOT last year, and now I feel mad that it might have been about the medication all along.

When Darlene is "off", our school day is often horrific. She certainly doesn't learn a damn thing on those days or weeks.

Grandma got sick of trying to get Darlene's mom to get off her butt and take care of her responsibilities. So she took care of it herself, with love in her heart, and with respect for both the little girl and for us. Thank God for that.

I should not be made to babysit kids who are prescribed medication, and are left without by negligent parents. It would be different if her mother had doubts about medication overall, that kind of thing. No, it's laziness.

And sadly, it's a fairly common occurence.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

It's check out the Carnival....

Ms. Frizzle did a super job with the first day of school theme!

Sunday, September 11, 2005

"This place is so beautiful..."

As I settle in on the eve of our second week of school, I'm called to recall last Sunday's preparations. Ms. Frizzle's request for posts about the first day of school has me thinking.

I usually hit the sheets on the night before school starts with a lump in my throat and worries on my mind. You might have read the poem I wrote about it….

Twas the night before school's start,
in her head, in her home,
the teacher was worried
about the unknown.

The kids and their parents
might drive her to drink.
And what of the testing:
What will the state think?

Will they pass all the subtests?
Will they get AYP?
Will the children be able
to test ably?

But on this night, September 5, 2005, I found sleep easily.

My lesson plans were complete, balanced, leak proof. They reflected the necessary (state mandated) “essential knowledge”, and they met my “Mommy” test: would I want my own child to be doing this stuff?

I sleepily sighed with the anticipation of seeing my students again. Over the summer, memories of their attempts to bite me and kick me and hate me had faded. I rolled over, on this, the night before school starts, and remembered Darlene’s amazing smile, Jacob’s contagious giggle, and Fred’s heartfelt hugs. Even the prospect of the NEW KID’s wrath didn’t ruin my feelings of peaceful satisfaction mixed with excitement.

The fact that my instructional assistant had been hired at the twelfth hour didn’t upset me. We’d only spent a few hours together, but I could tell we were a good match. Moreover, I could tell she was ready for the kids, ready to open her heart and mind to the challenges ahead.

One of my students requires a one-on-one aide, and THAT person had yet to be hired. Even that didn’t get me down, as I finished my evening prayers, on this, the night before school starts.

In fact, I slept like a baby.

And when, at 8:35 on Tuesday morning, the school doors swung open, Fred was the first to greet me in the hall. He grabbed me around the waist, looked up, and tears welled in his eyes.

“What’s wrong, Bud?” I whispered.

“You’re so beautiful, Mrs. R. This school is so beautiful.”

Now, THAT’S a good way to start the year.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

They are making a place in my heart.....

Already, I can feel the tug on my heart as the kids make themselves at home there. Darlene is beyond proud of herself as she compares her behavior last year with the "grown up choices" she's been making here this week. When that annoying little Todd shot her with water from the fawcet, we saw Darlene take a deep breath, move her hands slowly from shoulder level down to her side, close her eyes, and visibly relax....A real centering moment. She turned and made eye contact with me, then stepped away.


Such a big big step!!

Last year she would have been in that kid's face, spouting threats in her most aggressive ghetto-talk! She would have been riled up for a long, long time, making her completely unavailable for the next lesson or two.

Boy, she has come a long way. Let's hope it's not just "honeymoon" behavior.

For now, we'll enjoy the ride, and commit to building the relationship we're going to need if she starts to cycle down again.

On another note, we are making use of interactive notebooks this year, even at this very young level. We are creating SOL (VA's state tests) related graphic organizers that give the kids lots of opportunity to draw their ideas about the vocabulary we are learning. These visual representations are meant to strengthen the connection kids' make to help them retain the new information. It's certainly an organized way to present and store material. So far, I'm liking it. (It's DAY TWO.)

Day Two. Here's to a fabulous Day Three!!

Monday, September 05, 2005

The Obligatory Night Before School Starts...

Twas the night before school's start,
in her head, in her home,
the teacher was worried
about the unknown.

The kids and their parents
might drive her to drink.
And what of the testing:
What will the state think?

Will they pass all the subtests?
Will they get AYP?
Will the children be able
to test ably?

And what of the content?
Will they love all they learn?
Will her strategies reach them?
For what will they yearn?

For stories of heroes?
For time with their friends?
For grades to uplift them?
A means to an end?

The teacher she rolled on her side,
breathed in deep;
She prayed that she'd pass in the night, in her sleep.

No, no.. that's not it. Too depressing...

She prayed for a year with rewards they could reap....

Sunday, September 04, 2005

More about the point sheet...

I tweaked my point sheets this year, mostly to include the new pictures I've found since the last edition. Because many of my kids are not readers yet, the picture cues give them the information they need to understand and buy into the point sheet. I use various sources of clip art (which is ever expanding, right?), but this year they were all from the excel program itself. I'm pleased with the pictures, but reserve the right to change them early on if they don't make sense to the kids. (smile)

Speaking of picture cues, I'm reading more and more research about how providing visual cues is one VERY EFFECTIVE way of helping kids make connections to their learning and aid retention. I often -always?- started my lessons with a stab at creating a connection between the new material and the child's previous knowledge, but it was very often in the form of a verbal question. With the new research, I plan to make the effort to include a cool picture/photo/visual respresentation to go along with my verbal connectors. Takes a little more time, yes, but I'm thinking my special ed kids need every extra chance I can provide to learn the material.

Finally, and in response to a question from reader Kevin, I want to talk a bit about the point sheet itself. It is a good general measure of behavior, and it can help paint a picture of how a particular behavior is playing out during the day. For example, the point sheet itself can clearly illustrate a pattern of behavior (loss of following direction points throughout the day is telling), and time sensitive behavior problems can be identified (like every day at 10:30 am the child loses the ability to concentrate--- medication issue?) The point sheet itself is not especially helpful for the kind of data collection that is detailed. Consequently, I'll use tally marks in the margins of the point sheet to count specific behaviors through out the day, etc. Not especially official looking, but it does the trick.

It takes discipline to go to the point sheet every 15-20 minutes or so. It's absolutely worth it, in my mind. Once school starts I will take a picture of one of the kid's point sheets and post it, comments and all. (Names will be changed to protect the not-so-innocent.)

On a personal note, I just picked up my hub and daughter from the airport after their whirlwind visit to Clemson for the Clemson vs Texas A&M football game last night. They toured the campus (daughter is a senior in high school and doing her college tour thing), and attended several A&M alum activities (Hub did his graduate work there early in our marriage.)Such an exciting time in our lives. We count our blessings everyday, and pray for those folks impacted by Katrina, and also for the heroes doing their best to provide help.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Bring it on.....

We've kicked back at least 3 candidates.... too inexperienced, too unusual, just too, too much.

So, there is still no IA hired for my autistic student in need of one-on-one. They promise me that a sub IA will be there for us on Tuesday, day one of the new school year.

I have to believe all will be well. If I don't I'm likely to have a miserable weekend. And I REALLY REALLY want to have a great last weekend of summer.

I have to admit that getting back to planning has been something of a joy!! I'm excited in a way I haven't been in years past. It's NCLB, I think. I am rising to its challenge. Dammit, I'm going to figure out a way to make this work!!!

It helps that my class is small. Also,the woman assigned to our class is experienced, dead set on completing her teaching certification, and really anxious to learn everything she can about teaching ED kids.

My new classroom arrangement is pretty cool, if I say so myself. I love the new-fangled HUGE metal easal the principal bought me. It's AWESOME!! Ahh, simple pleasures.

Finally, my energy level is high. I'm sleeping well, and life is good.
So bring on the new year!