Tuesday, October 14, 2014

I finally got around to fixing my problem!

Teaching a multi-age classroom, I encounter all kinds of student needs. In every grade K-5, I have students who are performing on grade level, below grade level, and above grade level. Last week, I brought a dozen different spelling test papers, which I pulled from all over the place, to the copy machine. I also ran into problems with handwriting. I needed a test format with 20 lines, but I also needed it to have primary ruling. Ahh! On top of everything, some of my students argued over whose paper had which design, and it was just driving all of us batty (See what I did there with my October-esque pun? Har har.). A parent even was upset when I sent home spelling tests with half of the numbers crossed off for my kid who was performing below level. I needed something that looked the same but was differentiated.

I finally decided to make a spelling test format that met all of our needs. It has plain ruled and primary ruled line options for every test, and I created a test with 5 lines all the way through 20 lines. They all have a picture of an adorable bee (get it-- spelling bee?) thanks to Graphics from the Pond, perfect for early finishers to color and non-argument-inducing.

Check it out here!

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Sunshine Blogger Award

I’m so excited and thankful to announce that I was nominated by Kayla Shook from Texas Teaching Fanatic for the Sunshine Blogger Award.  Big shout out to Kayla for thinking of me!

The rules for the Sunshine Blogger Award are:
Post 11 random facts about yourself.
Answer the 11 questions asked by the blogger who nominated you.
Nominate 11 bloggers you think bring sunshine to the world.
Make up 11 questions for your nominations to answer.

11 Random Facts about Me

1. This is my fifth year teaching, and I’m an elementary emotional support teacher (K-5).
2. I taught myself to play the ukulele.
3. I just got married three months ago. Our officiant announced us for the first time in public by the wrong names, lol! The good news, though, is that we look super happy in all of our pictures, because we were laughing so hard. All of our friends now call us Dodd, which isn’t even a real first name. Bahaha.
4. My husband and I are looking for our first home. We think we may have found one, after almost a year of searching. Fingers crossed!
5. Chocolate. Me likey. Very (too?) much.
6. The sun makes me sneeze. Maybe this means I’m distantly related to Edward Cullen. Too bad I don’t sparkle. That’d be cool.
7. I love fall! I just bought a giant sweater, hot cocoa, and pumpkin spice to add to my coffee. Pumpkin patches, hayrides, scarves, boots, hats, pumpkin cookies, Thanksgiving, pumpkin pie, Dunkin pumpkin spiced lattes. I hope we can get into our home by Halloween so I could pass out candy to trick-or-treaters.
8. I’m thinking of applying to become a narrator for Audible or another similar company. People tell me all the time that I’m a fun reader.
9. I’m pretty awful at drawing (and it drives me nuts when people say “drawling”), but I can cut out realistic-looking patterns with scissors. If I have to make templates, I cut them out freehand from plain paper and then trace them onto a new paper to make a pattern. I lead a backwards kind of life.
10. I recently started some components of using Whole Brain Teaching (Mirror, Hands & Eyes, Teach-Okay, Rules, 10 finger woo), and it’s going well with my class!
11. I have dreams of becoming a professor or education consultant one day.

My Questions from Kayla

Where are you from? Pennsylvania. Did you think Georgia because of my blog name? Everybody does! Haha!
What is your favorite animal? Pigs are adorable!
What is your favorite thing about teaching? Turning around somebody’s day—or life. I live for the lightbulbs, a-ha moments, child’s laughter, and helping kids overcome obstacles.
What is your favorite children’s book? Um, I have about a bajillion. Anything by Julia Cook, probably!
Why do you blog? There really aren’t many blogs out there for emotional support classrooms, or for teachers who have students in emotional support programs. I hope to share my ideas to help challenged teachers reach the kids who likely need the most love.
Who do you look up to? Rick Lavoie <33333333 lol He’s the special ed guru! Also, my parents and grandparents
When did you become a teacher? 2010, two months after graduating college. My first year was in K-2 Learning Support, and it was truly my dream job.
Would you rather: Have a side soup or a side salad? Hmmmm… depends on where I am. At a diner, give me a soup! At the Olive Garden, give me 700 plates of the salad!
If you could click your heels together and be anywhere, where would it be? Oh, I have so many places! My first place would be back in time a bit so I could talk with my grandfather one last time. Second choice would be a bungalow in Bora-Bora, Tahiti! Third place would be in an airplane embarking on a trip around the world!
What is your favorite quote? “This, too, shall pass.” It always helped me when things got tough. Things always tend to work out, and problems that seem so big in the moment don’t usually matter in five minutes, five days, five weeks, or five years.
If you could read minds, whose mind would you love to read? The mind of a child who aggressively avoids work. I’d love to know the real reason why so that I could better help him.

My Questions
1. What’s your educational background and teaching experience?
2. What’s your favorite season?
3. What do you like to do for fun?
4. What made you want to be a teacher?
5. What’s your best childhood memory?
6. Who was your favorite teacher, and why?
7. How do you think your teaching has improved over the years?
8. Where would you like to travel?
9. What is your favorite thing about teaching?
10. What was your funniest student quote, moment, etc.?
11. What would you do if you won the lottery?

Monday, September 1, 2014

WANTED: Emotional/Behavioral Support Teachers

We just started a small, private Facebook group for emotional/behavioral support teachers. It would be a place to bounce ideas off one another. We've got a couple dozen awesome teachers so far. We may eventually venture out into a collaborative blog, but for right now, we just want it to be a safe spot to chat, get and give advice, and share ideas that will help our kiddos. Please leave a comment below with your personal Facebook link (Facebook only lets me add friends to the group), or e-mail apeachfortheteach@gmail.com if you're interested.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Invisible Disabilities

I just got back from the grocery store, and I had to share my experience.

An eight-year-old boy stood beside me, without looking at me, and talked to me at length about refrigerators. Yup, refrigerators. A few minutes later, I could hear the frantic cries from a couple calling their child. When his parents happened upon him, he immediately ran for the exit doors. His parents called for anyone to stop him. I hopped in front of the exit and asked him what he thought of stainless steel refrigerators. He stopped dead in his tracks and walked with me back to his parents, explaining that while stainless steel refrigerators are modern and visually pleasing, they are difficult to polish.

His mother, with tears in her eyes, reminded her son to use his words to express when he needed to exit a situation. His father shook my hand and asked if I knew someone with an autism spectrum disorder, and I explained that I'm an emotional support teacher and love several kiddos with ASD. The father shared that they have been working with a therapist to help their son reduce eloping (i.e., leaving a situation) in place of functional communication. He told me that people usually try to grab and scold his son when he bolts for the exits, which triggers a storm.

Then, a nearby man said to his wife, "If I ever acted like that in the store, my father would have kicked my ***. That's why I was never a brat." (Don't tell anyone, but I wanted to kick that man's you-know-what.) He said it a little too loudly, like he wanted us to hear him-- maybe to teach the parents a lesson? The parents had already tried that approach, along with many others, but their son had autism. He wasn't a brat.

There aren't physical characteristics associated with autism spectrum disorders, executive functioning needs, processing needs, dyslexia, dysgraphia, depression, mood disorders, or anxiety, so these can be considered invisible disabilities. These children may "appear" to have neuro-typical functioning, and thus, people expect them to behave in a neuro-typical manner.

Would you ever say, "Just walk already! It's not that hard!" to someone with paralysis? How 'bout, "Just look already! You can see if you try!" to someone with blindness? Would you punish someone for not being able to hear? Of course not. So why do we do it to kids with invisible disabilities?

Just sayin'. :)

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Introducing... Tissue Box Covers

It's been a while since I've uploaded a product to TpT! I'm excited to announce my newest creation, tissue box covers!

Jungle Theme:

Superhero Theme:

Owl Theme:

Fall Theme:

Each set has six different size options, so you're covered no matter what size you buy. I laminated mine for repeated use. The kiddos love them!

You can buy theme here for $1.50:

I have plans to make all different covers to fit a variety of classroom themes. Have suggestions? Share in the comments below!

Bright Ideas Blog Hop- Get Students to Close Markers and Glue!

I'm linking up with the Bright Ideas Blog Hop for August, and here's my bright idea!

I think my class has set the record for the longest running set of markers and glue. Simply reminding kids never seems to be enough. I started singing songs to cue my students to close their glue and markers properly. By the time I've finished singing a verse, everything's shut!

I started having a contest to see which group of students can be the first to start singing the song when I cue everyone to clean up. I challenged them to see if their group could remember before I could. Someone always remembers to start singing the song (perfect if I forget) during clean-up time, and everyone's markers and glues are shut!

Here are the cheesy little songs that have made such a difference and have actually gotten my students to CLOSE their markers and glue.

"Twist and Shut" for Twist-able Glue Bottles
Sung to the tune of "Twist and Shout" by The Beatles.
Well, take your glue bottles now (take your glue bottles)
Twist and shut (twist and shut)
Come on, come on, come on, come on, students now (come on, students)
Don't let them dry out (don't let them dry out)

"Put the Cap on Your Marker" (or "Put the Cap on Your Glue Stick")
Sung to the tune of "If You're Happy and You Know It"
Put the cap on your marker 'til it clicks (click, click)
Put the cap on your marker 'til it clicks (click, click)
Put the cap on your marker
Put the cap on your marker
Put the cap on your marker 'til it clicks (click, click)

Another fun challenge is to number the students' markers and glue, or write their names on them, and see who can keep his or hers the longest.

If you enjoyed this bright idea, please consider joining me on BloglovinFacebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Teachers Pay Teachers for more ideas.

For more bright ideas from more than 100 different bloggers, please browse through the link-up below, and choose a topic/grade level that interests you. Thanks for visiting!

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Tips and Tools 4 Back 2 School Blog Hop

I'm so excited to join my PA blogger buddies for Tips and Tools for Back-to-School!

To help you with your back to school preparations, we each have a tip to share and a tool for you to use when you return to your classroom.

Ever find yourself starting sentences with, "How many times do I have to tell you..." in your classroom? Here's why...

When learning occurs, the brain builds connections (synapses) between nerve cells (neurons). It takes strong emotional responses and/or repeated exposure to information to form these synapses.

That's why quickly telling students, or expecting them to know, about classroom procedures just doesn't work that well. We need to rehearse each and every single procedure until it becomes routine. Or until we're blue in the face. Whichever comes first. Hehe. 
Think about it-- we have fire drills every month, because rehearsal works. 

Teach and rehearse 1-3 procedures per day. Show students the "wrong way" and "right way" to perform each procedure, and then have them critique you. Be silly or emotional when you show them the "wrong way." Make it engaging! Have students demonstrate and rehearse procedures, and respond to others as they rehearse them. Practice walking down the hall before you walk to specials. Take your class into the hallway again and again, and rehearse it repeatedly. Discuss, examine, and add all of Bloom's Taxonomy in there! When they're not following directions, say, "Looks like we haven't quite gotten this down yet. Let's rehearse again!" Or curb a behavior concern with, "Do we need to rehearse this again?" We do have to let students know academics will be part of our routine, so break this up with community-building activities and social skills lessons with academic extensions.

We wouldn't expect a football team to skip practice, figure out the game as they go, only listen to their coach during games, and make it to the Super Bowl. We can't expect our students to never practice, figure out our procedures as they go, only listen to the teacher when things are getting chaotic, and make it to success.

A teacher asked me how she could get through a year's worth of curriculum if she starts it a week late. Each time a teacher has to repeat herself, she's lost about 1-2 minutes of instruction time. If this happens every period, that's pretty close to about ten minutes lost per day. That's 1,800 minutes (30 hours) of instruction time lost per year! What?! Swap your first week of instruction for procedures/routines, and save your time (and sanity)! Beacuse... Repeating yourself? #aintnobodygottimeforthat.

(If it helps-- I have a set of illustrated classroom routines and procedures posters that I use for the first week of school, for $3 at my TpT store)


Here's a free, editable copy of my first week of school plans! It's not pretty or fancy with fonts or clip art, because I wanted it to be quickly editable for you if you wanted to copy it into your plan book. If you open it in Google Docs (by clicking on this link or the photo below and selecting the "download," arrow from the top menu), you can click on the links included.

Thank you for stopping by my blog today! I hope that you picked up an idea or two. If you would like to be the first to know about classroom management and emotional/behavior support ideas, new posts, giveaways, and blog hops, follow me on Bloglovin' by clicking the image below.

Don't stop reading here!  We have more tips and tools for you. 
Just follow the link below and visit my blogging buddy Darla at Bouncing Through Life in First:

Have fun hopping!

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Bright Ideas Blog Hop: Help Students Keep Desks Organized

I'm linking up with the super fun Bright Ideas Blog Hop again, and here's my bright idea-- Desk Maps!

"Um, teacher? There's something growing in my desk. It's... squishy. It's hairy, too."
"I can't find my math book behind these papers."
"I had 60 pencils in here in September. Now I can't find one."
"Ow!!! My books keep falling out on my feet!"
"My desk won't... [jumps on desk] close!"
"Oh! Here's my homework from last month! [rip] Well, half of it!"

Sound like your students? Mine, too. That's why I started using Desk Maps! These are placed in students desks to show them exactly where all of their belongings should be stored. If it's not on the map, it stays in the backpack.

I made one for all of my students that I photocopied and laminated, but students could easily make their own if they have different desk setups.

To save ink, I made set student supplies on top of a sheet of paper and traced.

For my more concrete-thinking and younger students, I took a picture of the items on the desk map and made a color copy enlarged to 8 x 11.

Our desks have shelves, but for the desks that have opening lids, you could simply place the map on the underside of the lid, or on the bottom of the desk.

You could use small plastic bins from the dollar store to hold desk items. I've seen plastic drawer organizers used, too.

photo from amazon.com

At the end of the day, I ring a bell, and all the students have to arrange their desks to match their desk maps. I have a student check desks for me. They make sure a sharpened pencil awaits them in the morning.

Big time saver!

If you enjoyed this bright idea, please consider joining me on Facebook, InstagramTwitter, and Teachers Pay Teachers for more ideas.

For more bright ideas more than 80 different bloggers, please browse through the link-up below, and choose a topic/grade level that interests you. Thanks for visiting!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Trade the flip outs for flip flops

Font courtesy Graphics from the Pond

If your summer is a little less flip flops and a little more "flip outs," summer might not be all it's cracked up to be. Here are five tips for curbing the behavioral summer slide.

1. Structure, Routine, and Balance

Unstructured downtime is one of the most common antecedents to negative behavior. Routine and structure are key to reducing and preventing behavioral episodes. When you climb into a little one's brain, you'll find that summer is a natural upset of routines; all school year, we woke up at a specific time, got dressed, ate breakfast, brushed our teeth, and got on the bus, and then we would get to school, have homeroom, math, music, break, lunch, reading, recess, writing, phys ed, science, snack, social studies, go home, do homework, watch TV, play, take a bath, and go to bed. There was structure, routine, and predictability. We could make a list or a picture schedule to fill up an entire day.

It's hard to give our kids structure and routine during the summer, but it can be done without us having to be on top of them 24/7. Set up routines that are rehearsed and practiced until you no longer even need to be present for them to happen. Let your child know that today we are going to start something new. This can be an informal, unwritten schedule orchestrated by you or a sitter, or it could be written on a dry erase board that the child can cross out or wipe off when finished, or with removable pieces of Velcro (with pictures of clocks or the activity) that the child can pull off when finished. If your child can't tell time, the dollar store handheld timer or even the timer on the stove or microwave could help.

A summer routine schedule might look something like this

Wake up
Eat breakfast
Brush teeth
Get dressed
Chore or responsibility #1 (e.g., a basic chore, cleaning, making his/her lunch, summer reading, handwriting practice, school work, anything paper/pencil, etc.)
Play time (alone or with friends)
Wash hands
Play time
Fun activity, or TV time
Story time

Often, kids have a tough time in school, because they are used to unstructured periods and lots of freedom, but when they get to school they are expected to follow schedules and carry out specific, structured responsibilities. Schedules teach kids to manage their time, end a preferred activity to begin a less preferred activity, and establish a sense of personal responsibility.

Conversely, don't over-schedule. Sometimes a schedule that is too jam-packed or overbooked is stressful. It's all about the balance. Summer should be a fun time to take it easy, have fun, and grow through play.

2. Quality Time

They say the keys to battling depression are having something to do, something or someone to love, and something to look forward to. Schedule time once a week to spend some quality time together with your children. This gives everybody something to look forward to doing together. These can be fun and inexpensive, like game night, an ice cream trip, bike riding, playing kickball, making s'mores, or going for a walk. This will give kids a time for positive attention and bonding.

3. Fun

I'm willing to bet that we've all heard our kids say, "I'm bored" during the summer. With your child, make a list of fun summer projects, and have them choose which one they want to try each day. You can make homemade play dough, build igloos out of sugar cubes, roll toilet paper rolls in glue and sand to make a giant sand castle, make a fort with sheets and old boxes, carve funny faces into apples with googly eyes and uncooked rice as teeth, dye and string noodle necklaces or art pieces, make smoothies or milkshakes, bake or cook something new (we love biscuits turned into pizzas), homemade board games, a rope tied to a tree for two-person double dutch, homemade books or CDs, etc. Check out Pinterest and spoonful.com for more ideas.

4. Check In

For some kids, sensory needs and the stress of the big change of summer can really take a toll. For kids who are constantly on the go, some time to check in is nice and settling. Take time to check in with your kids. Maybe it's eating breakfast or dinner together, or taking a drive. Just take time to talk with them and listen to them. You can troubleshoot problems and praise and reinforce specific positive behavior during this time. Plan a special day one-on-one with each of your kids. It's tough when you're so busy, but when you look back, these are the times you'll both remember.

5. "You" Time

Don't feel guilty when you take a little time for yourself. We typically feel like we have to give our kids 110%, and we can't do that if we're only feeling 50% there in our own minds. Take your own time to relax, regroup, and enjoy your time alone. This will help you get back to feeling your best, so you can give your best to your kids. It's healthy, and it's okay! Have a date night with your spouse, go to lunch with your girlfriends, or check out the spa solo. Whatever it is, do it, and enjoy it. You earned it!

What are some things that work well for you over the summer? Please share in the comments!

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Special Educator's Blog Hop

I'm linking up with Tales of a Carolina Girl for the Special Educator's blog hop. She's another behavior support teacher! It's so tough to find other bloggers who do what we do, so I'm SO excited!

We fill out this adorable little questionnaire and link to an old post. I'm linking to my old post, Behavior Bank, which includes links to some of my behavior support posts.

Hop on over to the Special Educator Blog Hop, and check out the other awesome blogs!

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Product Review: Sit Spots

I don't get any money for this post; I just had to let you know about my favorite new product! Apparently, I've been living under a rock for the past five years of my teaching career. Who knew?

Because my classroom is multi-age, I have the same students for many years. We get a few new additions, and many of our students no longer need resource room-- but for the most part, we have the same kiddos for a long time (just a little taller each year). If any student is retained, I could have a student for up to seven years. I have to keep it fresh and different, not only for my students, but also for myself and our instructional assistants. This year, I'm giving our classroom a makeover. I'm going from primary colors to a black-and-bright look. I ripped everything down, so there's no turning back now. I'll be crying when I start this project, but oh well!

I've been having problems with my carpet situation. I want my students to have designated spots on the carpet for whole group lessons and read-alouds. I also want my carpet to be pretty. Problem is, I only earn a teacher's salary (i.e., "diddly squat"), and pretty classroom carpets are $100-$500. Pffffft, can I get a big fat NO?! I settled for one of those interlocking puzzle piece carpets, but they always seem to end up dirty (even after weatherproofing), with scuff marks, scratch marks, pencil holes, and I have a couple of kiddos who live to pull them apart. It's one of those choose-your-battles classroom management kinds of things that's just not worth the effort in our emotional support program with kids who love the sensory input of pulling those squares apart, you know? I think that, to my class, my interlocking carpet was like lining the floor with donuts. Too much temptation.

But then... [cue "Hallelujah Chorus"] I came across Sit Spots. Have you heard of these things? If not, you might want to sit down.

I bought my carpet at Walmart for $19, and my Sit Spots were $1.99 each. I bought fifteen, so they only cost $29 and change. My classroom carpet this year was only $50. That's $150 less expensive than the one I wanted! Granted, I have a small group of kids, so I didn't need many. Still, though, for a class of 30 kids, it's still way less expensive than its counterparts.

They don't stick to some carpets, so if you buy a throw rug, try to get one that feels the most like a standard carpet rug. I touched a couple until one felt like what I remembered sitting upon as a child.

These are the cat's pajamas, the bee's knees, the coolest thing since (cinnamon raisin) sliced bread (with icing)! They are basically tiny-but-mighty pieces of Velcro that attach to the carpet. I vacuumed over them, and they stay put. I mean it, they. don't. move. But if you stick them in the wrong spot and need to pull them up, it's easy. They come in a bunch of different colors and shapes. The kids won't pull them off, because they will be sitting on them. Sit Spots are pretty, cheap, temporary, and temptation-free? Is this real life?! I still have to get my yard stick out to measure them, but I just wanted to see if they worked.

Now I have a pretty teacher carpet! I gleefully rolled all over it in my living room, and the Sit Spots didn't budge. My husband looked at me funny for about a second, but then he remembered who he married and continued looking in the fridge (unfortunately, he wasn't looking for butter to add to my cinnamon raisin bread).

Check them out! You can buy them at http://sitspots.com/

Have you used them in your classroom? What are your thoughts? Share in the comments below.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Grow a Bean Plant in a Bag in a Window

We just wrapped up a new science writing project, and the kiddos loved it! My instructional assistant told me that she grows lima bean plants in her window with a bag and some wet paper towels. I also learned that this can also be done with wet cotton balls. How cool!

I ordered some cheap lima beans on Amazon and decided to try it out with my kiddos. The plastic bags on my window sills didn't look cute, though, so I decided to have the kids help me spruce them up a bit. Check out what we did!

I read the class "One Bean" by Anne Rockwell, and we discussed it. We related it to prior knowledge about other things that grow, and we talked about what beans were. We passed around beans and looked at pictures of bean plants. Then, we "planted" our own lima beans in wet cotton balls. We used the scientific method organizer and writing paper/booklets contained in the pack below. The kids colored and cut out the paper watering cans, water droplets, and pots, and taped them to plastic baggies. The cut outs are also included in the pack below.

I made a complete set connected to the Scientific Method and made it into a How-To Writing assignment. You can buy that digital download for $4 here:

How to Help Students Accept Mistakes

Like most teachers, you probably have a student in your class who avoids his work or who works nicely until he makes a mistake and then shuts down. Maybe you even have a student  who physically or verbally aggresses when faced with a difficult task.

What is an area in which you do NOT excel? I mean, something you’re really, really terrible at doing—so much so that it’s embarrassing to you? Maybe it’s dancing, singing, playing sports, or public speaking? What’s the thing you would avoid with a ten-foot pole if possible?

Now, imagine you have to perform your area of not-so-expertise in front of a crowd of people who are really good at whatever it is that is tough for you, and you’re going to be graded on this. The people closest to you will also get a report on how you did with it.

Now, what if your area of not-so-expertise was reading, writing, math, or socialization?

Welcome to school.
Okay, I’m your teacher, and I understand that this area is really difficult for you. I get it. I’m going to make this worth your while. If you do the thing that you do NOT feel confident doing, I’ll give you a goldfish cracker! No? That’s not motivating enough? Well, how ‘bout I’ll give you a sticker? Okay, okay, that must not be reinforcing enough for you. You can earn a candy bar for this! I know you love candy bars.

I don’t know about you, but there are not enough stickers, candy bars, or even extra recesses to get me to want to sing and dance in front of a group of professional singers and dancers. I just do NOT want to do it.

Also, I can’t lift a 250-pound refrigerator, not for all the goldfish crackers in the world. I simply can’t do it. The child who truly can’t read yet simply won’t want to do it, not for all the reinforcement in the world.

There also isn’t enough reinforcement that can alone get an “avoider” to want to do his work. Maybe, you can get him to just give in and do it, but can you get him to want to do it? Our job isn’t just to teach academics; it’s to teach children to love learning.

But how?

We often say that the student will do anything to avoid writing—but is he really avoiding writing, or is he avoiding the embarrassment associated with writing? Is he avoiding reading, or is he avoiding the feeling he gets when he makes a mistake while reading?

For such a complicated situation, there’s really an easy fix—confidence!

But how do we help students build confidence? I mean, don’t we compliment them all the time, point out the great things they do, hang their work, and so on? Yes, we do, because we’re awesome like that. It still isn’t changing the student’s behavior, though. We’d better go deeper.

One of my kiddos said to me, “I’m bad at math,” and I told him he’s not. I pointed up to his work hanging on the wall, a math assignment with a great big star! He said, “So what? Everybody on that wall got a good grade.” Oh. Touche.

Suddenly, my focus shifted from getting him to solve complicated math problems to getting him to learn how to learn. He needed the tools, the detours around his difficulties, and the confidence to proceed. He needed the hand truck to help him move his 250-pound refrigerator.

“Today, we’re going to try something different.”

I explained to him that today we were going to try something different. I told him I noticed he doesn’t love math, and I was going to help him with that. I asked him to tell me why. He gave me a pretty long list of things he doesn’t like—most of them related to his low confidence in the area. For students that won’t tell you what they don’t like, you probably already have an idea of what they don’t like anyway.

I explained to him that every kid in his class makes mistakes and gets problems incorrect—even the smartest kids. I told him about how most of the time kids raise their hands to answer questions they know the answers to and keep their hands down for the ones about which they are unsure. I explicitly taught him this “hidden” concept, that not everyone is great at everything.

If you’ve read my blog before, I like to compare learning needs to road blocks. My students are NOT allowed to blame something on a learning need or disability; they MUST find a detour. We wouldn’t end our trip simply because a road was closed, so we won’t end our educations—our most precious, important opportunity—over a mere roadblock. We’ll find a detour, or, if we must, build one ourselves.

Now, I aimed to help this student find or build his detour. I told him that we would find ways around or through each of the things he doesn’t love about math, together. I tried this once with a younger student who would not tell me what he didn’t like about math, but my telling him that was enough. He didn’t need to identify what he didn’t like yet. He just needed to know that we would work through this temporary feeling together.

Our first objective would be to learn how to accept mistakes. I had him help make a T-chart for me—“mistakes” on one side, “corrections” on the other side. I told him that he was the only kid in the class who knew about this ahead of time and to keep it a secret. I put it on the board, and throughout the day, we tallied each mistake I made. I made 27 mistakes (some on purpose, but they didn’t need to know that… shhhh). They LOVED this, and we laughed all day.

Over and over, I said, “Everybody makes mistakes! Even teachers!”

Next, I challenged him. Let’s see who could accept the most mistakes. [evil laughter]. He used his own T-chart on his desk, and I praised him each time he worked through a mistake. He made a mistake and laughed. [cue “Hallelujah Chorus”]

The next day, I planned a math game. Lately, I had been avoiding math board games. They had been going well, up until he got a question incorrect or didn’t know an answer. Then, the board game pieces would be thrown, or he would shut down completely. But that day, I planned the board game. I had butterflies in my stomach, but I planned it.

“Do you know this, or is this something I get to teach you?”

I let him know ahead of time that today we would be doing something different. I told him that this game would have easy questions and hard questions. The reason for this was so that I could get an idea of what he already knows, that I don’t get to teach him, and what he doesn’t know yet, that I get to teach him. “I love mistakes!” I told him, “because those are the things I get to teach you, and I love teaching new things!”

This wasn’t quite strong enough for my younger student the first time I tried this, so I had him take a bonus turn each time me made a mistake but accepted it and tried again. Quickly, both students learned that with a little extra effort, they could find the answer.

This taught me something important—Neither of these students had realized before that moment that everyone doesn’t always know everything immediately. My older student told me that the kids raise their hands and immediately know the answer. He didn’t realize that they figured out the answer and THEN raised their hands. He thought it was supposed to be instantaneous. I had to explicitly teach and show him how much time a problem is supposed to take to work out, and how that varies for everyone. Everyone’s brains work at different speeds, and it doesn’t matter who gets there first; it only matters that we all get there. I related this concept to video games—some take longer than others to load, but that doesn’t change how the awesomeness of the game. We all will get there, at a pace that is right for us.

I spent the entire year building this child’s confidence. I brought in activities that I knew he would like and with which he would excel—and yes, some of it was a little bit below what he could do. I wanted him to get a taste of success. He didn’t learn ALL of the concepts as the other kids in the class, but I can assure you that he learned more than he would have if he had hidden under his desk for the entire school year. That’s for sure.

Friday was our last day of school, and I had them write their favorite memories of our school year. He wrote “Math” for his. Needless to say, I got tears in my eyes. During the last week, he made a mistake and said, “Who cares if you make mistakes?” I got tears in my eyes again. Now he probably thinks I’m crazy, but I don’t care. He doesn't hate math anymore. He can make mistakes and accept them now. It took us a whole school year to get there, but we got there.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Glow-in-the-dark Sand, My New BFF

Having a class of students with behavioral needs, writing or skill-and-drill practice is really challenging. I'm always looking for fun ways to get students excited to practice. My students loved practicing on our DIY light table, so I started thinking of other ways that I could make stuff glow. A colleague told me that she made glow paint by mixing paint with glow powder or the contents of a glow stick, which blew my mind (I'm easily amused, lol). My class enjoys writing spelling words in sand, so I thought-- GLOW SAND! (Which apparently already exists-- Crayola Glow Explosion Sand... So much for going on Shark Tank with this idea. Womp womp.) 

Anyway-- My students absolutely LOVED this, and so did I! The pictures do it no justice. This stuff is bright, and it glows for a few hours.Turn out the lights, and watch your students GLOW with excitement (har har, pun intended)! 

Some Fun Hands-on Learning Activities for Glow-in-the-Dark Sand
  • Handwriting practice
  • Cursive practice
  • Number writing
  • Missing number writing
  • Addition, subtraction, multiplication, or division practice
  • Write upper and lowercase letters
  • Spelling practice
  • Sight word identification
  • Name practice

Some Ways to Make Glow-in-the-Dark Sand

  • Mix salt or sand with fluorescent/glow-in-the-dark paint
  • Mix salt or sand with glow powder
  • Mix salt or sand with the contents of a glow stick
How could you use glow-in-the-dark sand in your classroom? Please share in the comments below!