Saturday, April 13, 2019

A Repost from October Because I Love 4th-Grade ELA!

Sunday, October 30, 2016

#11 -- An Amazing Week in 4th Grade

If someone sentenced me to teach 4th grade for the rest of my life, I have to admit, I wouldn't hate it. I'm really enjoying this grade level. And it comes as a surprise to me, actually, because when I started out my degree, I didn't picture myself in a general education classroom, leave alone 4th grade. I mean, 4th grade is so, well, middle, and un-glamorous. But I love it here!

One of my favorite things we taught this past week was purple words. Students were taught to look for descriptive words in menus. After they collected a descriptive vocabulary, they either created their own imaginary food to describe or real food. They wrote great descriptors. And I thoroughly enjoy teaching language skills.
Anyone who knows me knows that I love history I.introduced the students to Woodland Indians. I'm surprised how little they know. I expected 4th graders to be more aware of history, but maybe that's because I'm a homeschooling parent and we talked history constantly in my house when my kids were growing up. (Plus, being an author of historical narratives makes me a little more, er, historic? than most folks...)

Project-based learning is important. Really important.  It keeps the students much more engaged and helps them invest in their own learning. I'm a huge believer in student-centered learning.

As I've written before, the role of teachers is changing. We are more facilitators of students' learning than actual direct instructors. I love that. I have been teaching writing through student blogging. And the kids are much more engaged because they are writing for a purpose.

I read all the students' blogs and helping them with grammar. I made each student a checklist to follow to help them with the simple things: capitals, periods, etc. I'm not sure they even get that they are to refer to it to check over their work. And when I do comment on their blogs, some actually correct their blogs (I comment privately). Others ignore it. I'm still looking for a better way to help them and also to keep track of corrected blogs. 

Probably my favorite time of the week was when I read the BFG chapter: "Frobscottle and Whizzpoppers." Oh mylanta. We all laughed so hard. I wish I'd written that chapter! (Read aloud time is my FAVORITE.)

Frobscottle is a drink the giant drinks that makes him pass gas. He calls these emissions Whizzpoppers. Here's my favorite quote from the main character, Sophie:

"Kings and Queens are whizzpopping. Presidents are whippzopping. Glamorous film stars are whizzpopping. Little babies are whizzpopping. Where I come from, it is not polite to talk about it. "
And what the giant says:

"Us giants making whizzpoppers all the time! Whizzpopping is a sign of happiness. It is music to our ears!"
Makes me wish I'd written the book. So clever, engaging and fun. I love it when school is fun.

Speaking of which, on Friday the students and teachers were allowed to dress up as book characters. I dressed as one of my own book characters. That is a character whose books I'm currently writing.

I dressed as Grandma Betty Biddle from my Airship Chronicles trilogy. Can you see me? I'm in the back on the left.

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Student With Traumatic Brain Injury Goes Back to School!

With her permission and the permission of her mother, I'm posting a video of one of my favorite people to work with.

Carissa is an inspiration to me, and I'm so grateful to be one of her teachers! We have so much fun during homebound.

This is a video we created together to help her teachers and friends get to know and meet the new Carissa. Carissa starred in it. I just did the filming and editing. Isn't she remarkable?

Carissa has a traumatic brain injury. The damage was to her brain stem and she only had a 5% chance of living. She was in a coma for two months. I am just so honored to know her.

You can read more about brain stem injury here:

Carissa was met with plenty of love and open arms on her first day back!

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

What's not to get?

Where other teachers want to strangle kids, I think it's hilarious. 

Imagine thinking you can get out of doing your work by pretending to be a drone -- and you're in 8th-grade. Tell me that's not a student with some issues, folks. That kid isn't giving YOU a hard time. That kid is HAVING a hard time! 

I shake my head because I'm not sure why that's so difficult to understand? 

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Mrs. Akins, You Taste Like Soap

Pretty sure this will be the title of my next book.

Teaching students with Emotional and Behavioral Disabilities and students with autism is my favorite job in the world. Except for fourth grade. Which you know, is my favorite, too. But once you find out how much you love working with difficult students, teaching typical kids can be, well, kind of boring. My principal told me she's never seen anyone de-escalate students the way I do and as quickly as I do. I'd say that's a pretty great endorsement! I can't take credit for my ability. I mean, I was sort of born with it the same as anyone is born gifted to do anything else right?

The job isn't perfect by any means. My caseload is too big. The school is a full-inclusion school so my students have a tough time navigating it at times. Most of the time, actually. It makes my job a challenge.

I have two of the best paras on this earth helping me. One is with one of our students all day and the other one is helping me right now with some "frequent flyers" in the room. These are students who spend a good portion of the day in our room. To be on diploma track they have to go to class at least 15 minutes per class and we support them academically in our room when they come to us after that. It can get chaotic with that many needs in the room, and with so many students pushing back and not wanting to comply with directives. You have to have a good sense of humor!

One of the reasons I love this job is that it's challenging. I love the constant adventure of figuring out what will work to help a student navigate the stressors of their day. There are things I'm good at and other things I'm not so good at. But I believe I will get better at those things each day and become a well-rounded teacher. The things I'm good at, I feel, are the most important. My students know I love and care about them. When they get through an entire day without a meltdown? That's a WIN. Winning rocks!

Friday, March 22, 2019

There's no tired like Teacher Tired...

I'm wiped. Transitions and FBAs, BIPS, and transition IEPs...put a fork in me, I'm done.

I didn't even know when my husband took this picture!

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Our Special Education Professional Development

Our special education team at ISMS had the privilege of leading a 45-minute professional development for our staff. We focused on learning the differences between modification, differentiation, and accommodation. Below are the materials.

I edited and produced this video using Camtasia software. Here's the link to the overall presentation:

SPED Led Professional Development

My main contribution was the link to the menu of choices teachers can use to differentiate:

Differentiation Menus

Does your school have a weekly professional development? What do you do during yours?

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

So, I'm teaching behavior this year...

No one asked if I wanted to. I just got a phone call that said, "You're teaching behavior resource this year!"

So I had to move out of my office and classroom and move into two other rooms - one in 6th-grade and one in 8th-grade. Which meant doing things very similar in each room for my students with autism and other emotional disabilities.

What a job. If my husband and sons hadn't helped me, I'd never gotten it done! I'm very happy with how the rooms turned out. Here's my room in the 6th-grade wing:

I have a calm-down tent in both rooms. 

I got a lot of push-back from someone for setting up my room this way. They were convinced the kids would tear it apart. So far, they've not been super-destructive on purpose. I did have one very angry student rip a hole in the tent. But these little pop-up tents are only $30. I put some pretty duct-tape over it to repair it and next year I'll get another one. These tents are used a LOT. They are magical the way they calm kids down and help them regroup.

One of my students hides with the pillows and likes the pressure of them stacked on himself. Hello, Autism!

As far as people being worried about bed bugs in my pillows, that hasn't happened yet, either. I do spray them down with tea tree oil and I think that might help. All in all, the kids love their room and take good care of everything. I think when things are nice, they have a different respect for it. I don't know. I could be wrong. 

And guess what? I love it. I like this position so much better because I get to interact with the students more. My caseload is still high (27) but after getting broken in last year with a caseload of nearly 60? This feels ok. (Even though one student with a behavior diagnosis is equal to three, which gives me 70+ but I still like this better!)

What did you teach this school year? How are you liking it? Do you think you'll teach it again next year? Let me know!

Monday, January 21, 2019

Soup Carry-In - My Contribution to the Human Resources Team This School Year

I'm on the Human Resources team at school. Each teacher is asked to join a team. I joined the HR team because I thought it would be the most comfortable for me as a new teacher. But now, I wish I'd joined the tech team. Oh well!

Note: we don't have a PTA or any kind of parent organization at our school. So, those of you who do, please appreciate those folks!

It's fun planning fun activities for the teachers. The people on our team are supposed to sign up for a month. I signed up for January and since it was National Soup Month, I thought that would be a nice, comforting warm spot on a cold winter day. I think everyone enjoyed it!

Here's the poster I designed:

Who arranges the fun stuff for your staff at your school?

Monday, January 7, 2019

Yes, I'm Still Alive! (How I Survived my Master's Thesis)

When you're writing a book or a thesis, you do live a solitary life for a while. And it's hard for friends and family to understand these things don't write themselves. To do so, you have to let yourself be a little selfish. You have to believe it's what you're supposed to do, and you must have the time and space to do it.

I love doing research much more than I imagined. I didn't think I was cut out for getting a Ph.D. someday, but maybe I will. I'm completely obsessed with the topic I studied: Executive Function.

Executive Functioning is the one skill that trips students up no matter their age or ability. Those with weak executive functioning struggle in life all around.

Here's my slide presentation. Let me know if you have questions!

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

8th-Grade Resource - Incentive Parties

The 8th-grade teaching team gives incentive parties for students who get grades C and above. I have mixed feelings about this because my students rarely pass. I could push-in until the cows come home and they'd still not be able to keep up with the curriculum that isn't differentiated enough to their level. For one thing, there's only one of me and there are 300 students. My caseload is near 60. How am I supposed to get to all of them?

I even heard a teacher boasting during lunch one day about the number of Fs she gave one term. It made me boil. (This was the same teacher who called me a few names.)  Someday when I'm years away from this, I will write a book.

Adjusting to being a resource teacher has been a mountain of a learning curve for me. I've never done anything like this. I've never worked with teachers who refused to differentiate enough to help a student experience success.

This is what gets me. I teach kids, not curriculum. And they are so set in their ways it's been hard to make a dent.

Now, not all teachers are this way, mind you. Some have come around to my way of thinking. But it's not easy for them. They don't like to differentiate at the 8th-grade level.  They don't think it's fair.

Nope. It sure isn't fair. Life isn't. If someone is having a heart attack, do I not give him CPR because I can't give everyone in the room CPR?

At least my desk is cute, right?
So I gave a party for all my students who made progress this term. Progress is progress no matter how small. And I wanted my students to know what it felt like to get a pat on the back for a change. I loved having the quiet ones, the discouraged ones, the ones who never got to feel what it's like to get rewarded gather in my room. There are reasons kids are there. A parent in prison. Going to bed hungry. Mother working 3rd shift. They all have a story.

I don't believe anyone wants to fail. And I believe in giving someone a hand up, a lifeline of hope when they fall. I just wish all the teachers would understand trauma kids. It would change everything.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

I'm a teacher!

My first bulletin board as a full-time public school teacher.

I've been teaching a lot of years. But you GUYZ, I am now a full-time public school teacher with my own classroom! 

It feels awesome. 

I know it might not feel so awesome in a few weeks, but for today? I am so happy I made it!

A Repost from October Because I Love 4th-Grade ELA!

Sunday, October 30, 2016 #11 -- An Amazing Week in 4th Grade If someone sentenced me to teach 4th grade for the rest of my li...