Saturday, September 10, 2016

The No-Excuses Homework Supply Bag


I have an incredibly ironic secret to share with my fellow teachers. I despicably, vehemently, despise giving homework to children!   It's my belief that children are in school all day working hard. When they go home at night they should be outside playing, participating in sports, joining after school clubs, eating dinner, spending quality time with their families. Kids need to spend time just being kids. These are the things that may give them interests in life-long hobbies and many positive memories. Right? 
    So, even though I am not a staunch believer in lots of homework, I am a believer in a little bit of homework to give children a responsibility and to also practice skills so that there is more time in school to do the bigger lessons. I teach Life Skills to children in 7th-12th grade. Is it cruel to give homework to special education students? I say no!
     I decided that instead of working on spelling day after day in school. We could work on spelling two times a week in school and use the other days for heavy duty ELA lessons. My theory you ask? What good is spelling if you can't write a sentence! I want to make homework as painless as possible with an almost guarantee that ever student will bring their homework back to school everyday. 
   My plan: We made no-excuses, take home homework supply bags filled with everything necessary to complete home work at home. We had a blast making the bags with duct tape! Initially, I had visions of duct tape stuck in my hair or kids tangled up in it! Thankfully how wrong my vision was! The kids had fun and so did I! Since it is so ridiculously easy to make a no-excuses homework supply bag, I am sharing this fabulous invention with you.

Steps to Making a No-excuses Homework Supply Bag:

1) Buy the materials:

  • Several rolls of colorful duct tape. I bought mostly solid colors with a few printed rolls to accent the bag.
  • Gallon sized plastic bags with zippered locks.
  • Supplies that your students will need for home work:I filled ours with pencils, pens, erasers, colored markers, crayons, colored pencils, and a spiral notebook. It's best to purchase the supplies during the back to school sales, when the prices are low.

2) Lie the plastic bag flat on the desk in front of each student. Tape the bottom with excess tape on both sides so that the bag doesn't move while the kids are adding more tape.
3) Allow the students to choose their own colors. I had my kids use solid colors and then add the fancier duct tape for fun! We put duct tape on the first side of the plastic bag in strips.  We then flipped it over to do the same to side two.

4) Next we embellished each bag with the printed duct tape.
5) Since we are a life skills class who uses an assembly line on other projects, I chose to practice our assembly line skills to fill our no-excuses home work supply bags. The kids did a great job!

    The next task I did to ensure homework completion was to sign my class up for Spelling City.  Spelling City is an on-line site where I can post my students spelling and vocabulary words. The best part for me is that since my students spelling lists are individualized according to their own personal level, I can easily add as many lists as I want. I was also able to print letters to the parents in both Spanish and in English so that the parents knew that their children can practice on their computers at home. I am notified of the time each student spends on Spelling City and see their progress. Better yet, the games on Spelling City are varied and fun! My students love it! A few have downloaded it to their cell phones!  No, I don't work for Spelling City. I just like to share helpful tools for my colleagues. So whether you send home spelling homework or another subject you should never again have to hear, "I couldn't do my homework because I didn't have any supplies".
     Now I can tell you that the "No-excuses Homework bags combined with Spelling City have made ten highly successful students in my classroom. We have a 90% success rate with homework and 100% on all of our spelling tests. I'm proud, my kids are happy. ELA is going great! In a very odd sense the No-excuse homework bags have seriously changed our classroom lives for the better! I hope this tool can work for you too!

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

SymbalooEDU Social Bookmarking Service Gets this Teacher into the Cloud!

     Three weeks ago I had never heard of SymbalooEDU. I went to a professional development class feeling not so tech enabled with my head literally in the clouds and left with a free social bookmarking service in the cloud! Clouds now have a whole new meaning to me! SymbalooEDU has changed my life for the better.
      With SymbalooEDU teachers can organize and share the best of the web with their students. To me SymbalooEDU is an amazing tool. To the right of this page is a sample picture of what SymbalooEDU looks like. SymbalooEDU is a free educational tool that gives teachers and students a way to save their on-line resources in the cloud with access from any technological device, such as: an iPad, iPhone, MAC, and/or personal computer. Each tile on the SymbalooEDU grid (actually called a gallery) is a website, app, or a resource. As a busy teacher who always wants to give their students the best possible lessons, SymbalooEDU is not only a life saver but also a time saver. Now with a click of a button, the classroom teacher can share websites with students and colleagues. There will no longer be gaps in instructional time while the teacher types in web addresses manually. Just one click and the whole class is together on the correct website. There will no longer be the worry of advertising getting into what the student sees. The best part is that all resources in the SymbaloEDU gallery are saved in the cloud. This means that they can be accessed by any device in or out of school.  SymbalooEDU resources automatically sync between a user’s ipad, iPhone,Mac, and personal computer.
   Again, please look at the sample SymbalooEDU picture above. Each color coded section which will actually have pictures or graphics on it from the website, demonstrates how each teacher or user can organize their SymbalooEDU gallery. This actually has a name called: a webmix. Simply stated, a webmix is a collection of links around a specific topic. My personal teaching gallery is actually made up of six webmixes: lessons, typing practice, behavior, presentations, teacher made websites, and music to teach by. Webmixes can be published for other teachers to find and use. Symbaloo EDU is very user friendly. I am not a strong tech person, but even I was able to quickly and easily add my frequently used websites to my SymbalooEDU gallery. It is very simple to search the web from the SymbalooEDU gallery. There you can find your favorite websites that you frequently use and place them on a tile in your gallery.
   Another great feature of SymbalooEDU is there is a tile where you can create or obtain lesson plans in the marketplace. There is even a Symbaloo basic certification lesson plan!
  Since I'm not an expert of SymbalooEDU my recommendation is to hop on over to to learn more about it. 
Soon you will be just like me: a teacher in a cloud! Best of luck.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Life: Two Questions Answered!

My son's friend recently asked me two questions to get to know me better. I decided to share them in a blog form because everyone chooses their own path in live for different reasons. My path from day one was special education. I have chosen to be an advocate for children who need special education services for very personal reasons. I love my career choice and even though I may gripe about the long hours of paperwork that goes along with this career, I do believe that the paperwork is necessary to give children the best education possible. The paperwork is simply the glue that binds all of the services together and keeps the team connected. I have never regretted becoming a special education teacher.

Question 1: Why did you go into special education instead of regular education?

"Hmm...My reason for going into special ed as opposed to regular ed is highly personal but not so personal that I won't share. I was a preemie back in 1961. I actually almost didn't make it because my heart stopped beating when I was only a few days old. I was saved. My story could have easily turned out differently. I could have been intellectually challenged. Thankfully I was not. I went into special education to help kids who were not as fortunate as me. I wanted to treat kids how I would have wanted to be treated if I were disabled. I believe that every kid is "normal", it's just that everybody's normal is different. The most rewarding part of my job is seeing kids happy and excited about learning. I love watching kids work hard to get to the next step in his/her education and then get it! I love coming up with new and creative ways to make lessons memorable to keep my students talking about what they have learned and experienced. Not every child learns in the same way. I love finding the key that helps unlock each child's learning potential." 

Question 2: What is your favorite holiday and why?

     "My favorite holiday is Christmas Eve. I love Christmas Eve because it is a true family holiday. Everyone is happy and together reliving Christmas's past and full of hope for the next day. I love reading Christmas books. When my kids were young we had a holiday reading jar. I actually wrote a blog about it! I love unfilled stockings and the smell of the air. I love Christmas Eve Mass as a family. I still remember the feel of my grandmother's smooth,  leather gloves as she held my hand in church. I hope my kids have warm memories too.#

Monday, June 13, 2016

Summertime Play: A Child's Work

     Summertime is here! Did you know that some of the best lessons don't come out of the classroom but from your child's imagination? The belief that play is a child's work is commonly accepted among researchers and educators in the field of early childhood. Practically from birth, children learn best from touching and experiencing objects using their five senses  to see the effects of the items on their world and on themselves. Play, along with proper nutrition, hygiene, and adult interaction is essential for proper social adjustment and problem solving skills. Children who play develop abstract thinking skills which will later help them with the necessary skills to be successful in their academic and personal lives.
     Children are constantly observing the interactions of adults. Through play they imitate these interactions. One of the best summers my children ever had was the summer that we got a new refrigerator. I had placed the refrigerator box in the garage for disposal. My kids begged me to keep it! So, we did. For the next couple of months my driveway and that box became a playhouse for all of the kids in the neighborhood! It's amazing what kids can do with duct tape, paint, and their imaginations!
     Another favorite of my children was play-doh! Kids can make play-doh into anything they want it to be. They can make figurines to role play and/or food to pretend to cook. 
     Let's not forget blocks and sandboxes or better yet the beach. What better things to use to build castles and dreams!
      I have one other activity that I used to let my kids do! We played in the rain! We put our boots and jumped in puddles. We got wet! (Only for rain showers without thunder and lightening). We laughed and had such a great time. What is the difference in getting wet in a pool or beach and a puddle? Okay, yes, puddles may be not quite as clean, but it's all good fun. I also wouldn't advice letting children jump in puddles unattended but within the realm of your own safe neighborhood, why not?
   Kids need to be kids! Kids need to play! So, this summer just let your kids be kids! Let them develop their sensori- motor skills, constructive play skills, their dramatic play scenarios, and if they are ready, play games with rules! Remember, the interactions in child's play, will give your child the lessons of giving and taking in social relationships. Creativity will strengthen as the child acts out make pretend dramas and expands on real life situations that the child has observed. Play also helps the child with math and reading because of  symbols and shapes used in play. This will become an even stronger skill if you read to your child as part of a regular routine.
     So this summer let your child do his/her work and let them play! 

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Empower Special Needs Teens with Appropriate Social Strategies


Teenagers with special needs have a whole host of hidden difficulties that aren't often thought about or mentioned. Up until puberty and the growth spurt that comes with it, it was okay for these kids to be cute and lovable. They could hug their family members, classmates, or mostly anyone who was kind to them. Often kids with special needs misread people and think anyone who smiles at them or says a kind word to them is an instant friend. Not only is this not true but can also be dangerous.
     When a person is given a properly administered IQ test and has a score or IQ below 70, s/he is in the bottom 2% of the population. A person with an IQ between 60-70 is on the approximate grade level of a third grade student. A third grade student is 8 or 9 years old. Therefore, a teenage or adult person with the mental age of 7 has scored the same amount of questions correct as a 7 year old first or second grade student.

     Let's talk about seven year old children for a moment.
Socially, seven year old children want recognition for their individual achievements. They are not generally good sports when losing a game or even a sharing a preferred toy. Seven year old children are learning to stand up for their own rights but must be taught boundaries for self advocating. They want to be more independent. They are more critical of themselves and are critical of their own failure. They also become concerned with their own lack of skill and achievement.
     Now let's take the traits of a seven year old and place them in the mind of a teenager with an IQ lower than 70. This teenager may speak clearly, be able to do simple
 math equations well enough to balance a checkbook, and may be able to read on a second grade level. This teenager may look just like his or her same aged peers.
     Up until middle school these teens were expected to be thankful and to express their gratitude. When they were younger it was perfectly acceptable to openly express their appreciation with big smiles and hugs. It was okay to feel safe by holding their caretakers hand. It was okay to sit on well known adults laps. Suddenly their bodies grow and hormones kick in just like their age equivalent peers and "OH NO!"  These same expressions of gratitude are no longer appropriate! Let's keep in mind that people with lower IQ's take longer to learn  to learn skills and proper behaviors than their age equivalent peers. So these skills and behaviors that were learned early on have been habituated and will be very difficult to change. Learned behaviors are not like academic skills that build on to each other, for example learning alphabet sounds, then applying phonics skills to create the basis for reading. Behaviors become habits which are very difficult to undo. Behaviors become deeply ingrained in the person's brain.
   So now, this teenager who was once labelled sweet and affectionate is now labelled weird or perverse, or perhaps even dangerous! The special needs body has grown but their emotional and social growth has remained childlike. Special needs teens often don't know their own strength. their reactions to others is often the same as it was when they were seven years old but now it is isn't adorable or acceptable. Sadly, in reality these teens are victims of circumstance. They are not weird, or perverse, or dangerous. They simply haven't completed their learning on socially appropriate behavior yet.
This leaves the special needs teenager and soon to be,  adult in a very vulnerable situation. most people in the world are not trained to see hidden disabilities. If a person is walking and talking and seemingly functioning as "normal", then to the untrained eye, this person is normal. It's an oxymoron of fortuity. Teens who are intellectually disabled  often face teasing, taunts, abuse, and rejection by peers yet because they want to be accepted and have friends these teens think these "bullies" are their friends. They believe that their "friends" aren't laughing at them, they are laughing with them. Again, this is because since birth a smile has been a sense of approval.
     Low intelligence coupled with limited social-emotional skills, lead to special needs teens missing important social cues. An example: Dorothy is an outgoing, kind 16 year old teenager. She is in Honor Society so volunteers her time to help in a self-contained special education classroom in her school . Dorothy helps Christopher in math. He is learning how to balance a checkbook. Christopher writes his first, perfect bank deposit slip. Dorothy gets excited, she smiles at Christopher and touches his shoulder to congratulate him. Christopher gets very excited and misreads Dorothy's cues. Christopher leans in and tries to kiss and hug Dorothy.  Christopher gets reprimanded by his teacher. Dorothy who is embarrassed leaves the room. Again she unknowingly gives the wrong social cues by saying "It's all right Christopher.You did great!"  Later, Christopher sees Dorothy at the playground with her friends. Christopher begins following Dorothy and her friends everywhere. At first Dorothy again gives misguided social cues to Christopher so that she doesn't hurt his feelings. She smiles and tells him to please stop following her. The smile tells Christopher that she likes him even though her words do not make sense. Eventually, Christopher follows Dorothy home, often. Christopher's parents believe he is safely hanging out at the local playground, because he returns home on time. He has been going to the playground his entire life. He is allowed to go alone because he is never a problem and can tell time so he knows when to walk home.They do not expect any problems because Christopher has always been kind to others. One day Dorothy and her parents decide that Christopher may be a threat. They call the police. Christopher now has a police record for stalking when in reality he was only misunderstanding social cues. This story is false but realistically special need teens face these hidden dangers everyday. 
     Another danger that intellectually challenged teens may face is their size and strength. They are not dangerous they just may not realize their own strength.  An example is: Jane, who is an intellectually challenged seventeen year old. Jane has younger siblings who are ages three and six. Jane enjoys being with her siblings. Jane sees her parents playing with her siblings and wants to join in. When mom or dad is present Jane is reminded to be gentle. One day Mom is distracted by the mailman; Jane decides to help by pushing her three year old sister on the swing. Jane pushes too hard and her little sister Jacqueline flies off the swing. Jacqueline is not seriously hurt but Jane feels bad that her sister is crying.  Jane also is worried that she will be in trouble with her mom for pushing the swing because she may only push it when a parent is watching. Again, this example is false.

     It is very important that the special education teacher and team of psychologists, social workers, speech therapists, para-educators, and parents take the time to reteach socially appropriate strategies for the special needs teen. Going back to that seven year old mentality, of not being a good loser and difficulty taking criticism from adults, even constructive criticism, coupled with misreading social cues and not reeducating a special needs teen, is a recipe for disaster. Sadly, the person who is a victim in the end might be the teen who in reality is a gentle soul, with a pure heart, who either never learned socially acceptable responses to visual and verbal cues or is in the process of learning them. It seems unfair that an innocent baby is born with special needs, grows up with a loving heart, only to be the victim of a social misreading that places him or her and another person or persons in jeopardy. Remember please if you are a parent or person working with a special needs teen, the importance and value of teaching and modelling age appropriate behaviors that will keep this good-natured teen safe.   

Thursday, April 7, 2016

How Far The World Really Goes

Maybe it's better she never knows
                           How far the world really goes...
Maybe it's better she only sees old...
                  for her belongings to her are purely gold.
Maybe it's better she's never seen Parents who work...
              they wait for the check unlike a crook.
Her parents are home, they're drunk, they                                                                      never cook.
Maybe it's better there's free meals in                                             school,since now she can read.
Maybe it's better her parents can't read...
             She can a little, not enough to be freed.
Her clothes are tattered, rarely clean, 
                                                      ...doesn't matter
The colors are pretty pink, blue, purple,                                                                              ..drabble. 
 Maybe it's better her hair is all knotted ... layers of hairspray to keep lice out ...                                                                              undoubted
More kids means more money. 
                                                 Don't worry honey. Brothers and sisters are built in friends
             Maybe it's better they love to the ends 
Holidays are grand, people give this is 
                       Mom and Dad are always cordial.
Thanksgiving turkey...
Christmas rum balls, cheap toys  make                                                                      everyone perky.
Maybe it's better she never knows how far the                                                     world really goes.
Parents, kids, cats, dogs, mice, sleep on the                                                                                 floor,
surrounded by trash, chip bags, beer bottles                                                                            galore. 
Maybe it's better she never knows how far the 
                                                    world really goes.
Life in this podunk town makes fewer foes.
The neighbors' life story is simply the same,
as the little girl next door who isn't yet the one
                                                                   to blame.
So to those who know how far the world goes
            who never would wear tattered clothes,
Think of the children who will be lost forever 
in filth, poor education, poverty, however....
If those who know how far the world goes would take a few minutes to reach out and                                                                                care 
             Perhaps a little girl may someday dare
to reach beyond her podunk town
to find a world so sweet and sound
To learn that going to school was more than                                                               free lunches...
That book or two and that teacher who                                                                                    taught,
Gave her a ticket to see past her zone...
She saw the world...
She came back to help her own.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Starting the School Day Right

    I recently started teaching in a new school. I can only send praise to my predecessor. She was brilliant. Since I began my new assignment in an established classroom, I decided to not make any major changes until August when the new school year begins.  The kids in this classroom already had a routine and a certain way of doing things. Instead of changing what they knew, I decided to change my ways to adapt to them. 
   One of the most outstanding things my predecessor did was to start the students academic day with daily classroom news. First thing every morning after breakfast, my students begin by reading our classroom newspaper. The newspaper highlights what we are learning in school, upcoming events in school, real world news, what's for lunch and more. The newspaper doubles as a point card on the back to track the students behavior. The students bring their newspaper home every night so it is also an easy way to communicate with parents. There is a place for comments on the point card side so if a student does something really well, or something s/he shouldn't have done this can be written on the back side of the newspaper too.
   Now this is where the true genius of the newspaper comes in: There is a joke in it everyday that the students must solve! There is a weekly joke person who's job is to find the daily joke for the newspaper. So now the teacher is linking reading, current events, challenges of the mind...and wait...there is more! The newspaper also has a wordsearch built in! Each day the students are asked to find five words present in the articles of the newspaper! This gives the students more reading power and vocabulary! What more can a teacher ask for than to have a meaningful activity every day to ease the students into their day of learning! So kudos to the teacher before me in this classroom who found a stress free  way of starting the school day right! I sincerely praise your efforts.

A Newspaper sample:

P.S. The names in the sample have been changed for anonymity.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

The House of Q's: Easy Crafting: Origami Dresses

The House of Q's: Easy Crafting: Origami Dresses: I have a new addiction and can thank the interwebs for it. This new addiction has prompted me to start another branch of the blog titled &q...

Sunday, February 7, 2016

The Trust Parents with a Disabled Child have for Professionals.

     Over two decades ago, I joyously became pregnant with my first child. At this time, I was a youngish special education teacher, teaching in a private, residential school for children who were dually diagnosed with intellectual disabilities and emotional disturbance. Despite their disabilities which sometimes caused them to have episodes of impetuosity causing mayhem amongst themselves and others, I adored these children.  They had the most outgoing and endearing personalities. Eventually all who work with these children learn their triggers and physical signs that precede their pernicious moments. We learn tricks of the trade that lessen the incidents of pandemonium. Oddly, it never occurred to me that I could have a disabled child. One would think that since this was my career path I would be fearful of having a disabled child. I however genuinely cared for these children. I saw them as unique individuals who made every day brighter. As Meryl Streep once said, "What makes you different or weird-that's your strength." She is right.
     Since this was a residential setting, I rarely saw the parents. Some of them no longer had parents because they just couldn't handle their child's total uniqueness. Either way, I have to applaud these parents as I do any parent with a disabled child. When one has a disabled child, they are facing new ground of the unknown. Bookstores are filled with books on how to parent normal children. but not much is written on how to care for a disabled child. I can't begin to imagine the numbing fear of giving birth to a child who is disabled. These parents have no choice but to trust the professionals who are working with their children. Giving up that control has to be terrifying. Regardless of the situation parents love their babies. Eventually most parents learn all about their child through the trials and tribulations of raising them. Still, throughout their child's life, they must jump through hoops going to each new professional in their child's life, and again and again explaining all of the things that makes their child meet his or her maximum potential. Doing this again and again takes so much courage and strength. Each time, they are handing their "baby" over to someone they just met. Some parents can't handle this so they make the decision to let go and let those who they perceive as having more knowledge than they do become guardians to their child. Either way, courage and tenacity are involved.
     All parents the fear of letting go. The fear of the first day of daycare, kindergarten, middle school, high school, and college. Imagine if your child can't speak clearly or at all. This magnifies the fear. Imagine too that your child perceives the world slightly differently than it actually is. What does a parent to then? I have a few bits of advice:

1) Keep the communication line between your child' s professionals and yourself open. Have a journal that travels    between home and school. 

2) Make frequent  phone calls. Ask the professional to call  you when  changes in your child are noticed.

3) Listen carefully to your child and their professional. If  you have questions ask them. If you need a second  opinion get one.

4) Don't be a bully. A parent who bullies makes everyone shut down including the child.

 5) Remember the child is at the heart of the matter. The professionals who work with your child dedicate their lives to this profession because they believe in making a difference for you, and your child.
       In the end, it's not only the parents with disabled children who have fear for their child. Parenting is difficult. There will be times in every parents life when they have to put their child in an unknown person's capable hands and trust them to give the best advice. Just remember as the parent, you may ask as many questions as you need to to get the right answer for your child. Also, not every professional will have the approach that your child needs, the professional already knows this, it's not a one size fits all world. Fear not getting second opinions. Do what is right for you and your child, while staying in control and thinking through your challenge in a respectful manner. In the end everyone will benefit from your diligence and conviction, especially your child. 

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Reading Beyond the Classroom: The Reading Chain Challenge

A little over a month ago I left my dream job to begin a new chapter in a similar position in a different state! I spent many sleepless nights trying to decide if this was the right thing to do. I fought myself because my whole life I generally took the road less travelled. This was once again, the road less travelled! I have always looked out for others before myself. I cheered for the underdog because I believe that all people deserve a chance in life no matter what their home circumstances are like. I grew up watching Walt Disney films where the underdog always wins. Now, I was leaving an amazing group of children who usually gave me their best work. Children who followed my every whim. Children who trusted me to take care of them and guide their education. In our short time together, we all became stars. We didn't sit quietly alone in our special education classroom. We emerged during our time together. We were in the newspaper several times and made television news on two stations. How did we do this? We did this by working hard for others and in the process building our own confidence and academic skills. We made memories that last a lifetime. I learned more from these kids than I ever did in any higher education classroom. In the end, I didn't want to be just one more person walking out of their lives. Saying goodbye was hard. As my assistant reminded us, this goodbye was forever. At the time I thought this word "forever" was going to break my heart! 
    My first day in my new position, I was greeted by two amazing paraeducators and a new classroom of children. Beginning a new position in the middle of a school year is an unique challenge. My new students were unsure about me, rightfully so. I of course thought of the children that I left behind. I always say "once my student always my student". I found myself using many of the same techniques that I used in my previous position. Techniques that my former students helped me to hone. In my first month in my new position I have learned so much. I have learned, that just like students, teachers are always learning too. I still have so much to learn. I am grateful for this. I still get excited when learning new skills and techniques. 
    It's been a month. My new students were curious about my former students. They asked lots of questions about them. In this month , I have gradually blended my brand of teaching to my new classroom. We decided to make a reading chain like the one my former students in room 215 have started. Then we decided to challenge the room 215 kids into a reading challenge to see which class can read the most books by the end of the school year! My new students in room 10 kept track of their books read this school year, so we made a reading chain like the one in room 215! The challenge is on! 
   "Forever" isn't forever! Two groups of teens who come from different worlds have come together to compete for the top reading title! The prize, a pizza party for the winning classroom. The real prize: teaching students that reading is fun and is a skill that takes us all beyond the classroom. The goal: to make better readers, one link at a time!