Category Archives: Special Education Teacher Blog

Use CLASSROOM as an Acronym to Think About Student Environment

 

Reading Culture

This is my husband’s favorite story from last week:

Two students are working on their fairy tale research project.

K. says, “How do you spell your name?”

M spells it out.

K responds, “I thought your name was Student M.”

And M says, “It is. In every other class.  In here, my name is M.”

My husband likes this story because he says I’ve created a comfortable space for students to be themselves.

Creating the classroom environment is arguably one of the most important tasks a teacher must do before any students can engage in learning outcomes. As teachers, we spend a large portion of the day in this room and students come to love walking through the door (or hopefully, not the reverse).  Over time, one’s ideas shift and this is mirrored in the classroom. Here are my current thoughts on how to create an effective and safe learning environment in the SDC English classroom.

C-Cultivate a Routine

Over the years, I have found that the best classroom management strategy is to have a routine that the students understand.  This is comforting.  Obviously, I change how things are done, but it is in a structure that the students can then tackle.

L-Look for Moments to Connect

I know, I just said that routine is the most important strategy, but now I’m saying that connecting to students is your number one job in the classroom; otherwise, why teach? Initially, I thought this would be challenging because each year the students seem to get younger, and I light one more candle on that vegan cake.  But the secret is: be present and see who is in front of you.

One student comes to mind as the perfect exemplar.  A fashion diva, he reminds me of Phillip Seymour Hoffman playing Truman Capote at a New York soiree.  When I commented on his Guns ‘N Roses t-shirt one day, he ever-so-patiently explained, “Mrs. Lee, it’s fashion.” Now I’ll tell him stories about Axl Rose and he’ll sigh-in-dramatic-fashion, “I thought he was dead.” This is a very small moment, but in the day of a student, I’ve read that sometimes a teacher, throughout the ENTIRE day, may never say the student’s name.

A-Anticipate Problems with Assignments and Technology

Almost every time I’ve planned to show a video–there has been some technical problem.   Either the internet is down at that moment and it won’t stream, or I can’t get the subtitles to work for my students who are deaf and hard of hearing, or the bulb in the Smart board goes out; there’s always something.  If students have in their mind that they are watching a video, you can’t simply turn around and say,”Well, it looks like it’s time to write our three-paragraph-in-class-timed-writing-response to August Wilson.  If there is a chance that something can go wrong, have a back-up plan that is EQUALLY engaging to the students!

S-Supply Engaging Content that Allows Students Control

I think this is one of those Giant Hairy Scary rules that teachers may not actually do for a couple of years.  It takes time to learn HOW to give the students control of their learning, but a prerequisite goes back to Looking for Moments to Connect and knowing your students.

S-Supplement Student Interest by Allowing Choice

At first glance, this may look like a repeat of the above, or that I have become lazy with my acronym.  However, not all students understand content in the same manner; therefore, it only makes sense to restate that not all students should produce the same end product.

R-Reward Desired Behavior

As a teacher of students with special needs, I constantly have to remind myself that positive behavior support is the best prescription to keep classroom management as close to the only-in-my-head “dream classroom” that I want for myself and my students.

I think every teacher has that ONE class that makes her challenge everything she knows to be true about teaching in high school.  I have one almost every year.  This year, the students were piling in just as the bell rang and there was this playful bantering bouncing around the room.  I knew if I tried to start the independent reading, it would be unsuccessful and I would only end up frustrated.  As I stood in front of the class, I said, “It looks like everyone needs 5 minutes talk-time.” A student responded, “For real? Yes, I kind of do.” So I set a timer for five minutes and the students talked.  When the timer went off, we started class and everyone got what they needed that day.

O-Omit Negative Comments!!!
O-Observe Behavior and Make a Plan

I’m sorry to say, it doesn’t matter how long you’ve been teaching, there will always be one or two students who find ways to get to you.  I have one of those quick minds that instantly thinks of five things to blurt out when a student engages in whatever the behavior is that I don’t like in the classroom.  Instead, I don’t say anything.  I talk to friends and other teachers the student has–or maybe a counselor.  I make a plan.  I stick to the plan.  If the plan doesn’t work, I make a new one.  Behavior specialists always say that all behaviors serve a purpose and I have found this to be true.  The only way to understand why a behavior is happening, is to observe it and understand it.

M-Make Learning Fun

Finally, the end result, if you can create the ideal classroom environment, learning will be fun and it will (look) effortless!

Writing Desk

Running a PD? Think of using the CLASSROOM acronym and have teachers pair-up and create their own classroom culture.  Sometimes we get so bogged down with testing, grading, and implementing new curriculum, that we forget the most important aspects of the job!

What’s important to you when creating a classroom environment?

 

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Writing for the Sake of Writing

Vincent van Gogh: Corridor in the Asylum
Writing for the Sake of Writing

As I get lost in Corridor in the Asylum, by Vincent van Gogh, knowing that the artist sent this drawing to his brother, Theo, as a record of his surroundings, I can’t help but connect the image as a personal mind-mirror, as a realistic representation of what it feels like to be a new blogger. I’ve read on various blogs that it can take one-to-two years for you to build an audience.  One-to-two years!!!  In a world where social media brings instant likes, comments, smiley-faces, and a feeling of-hey, someone-is-paying-attention-to-you, time becomes a labyrinth, an Alice in Wonderland rabbit hole of self-doubt that resurrects the five-headed-inner-editor-monster that hibernates in us all.

Despite the expert knowledge of all of those who’ve blogged before me, knowing that people are not ready to consume every hyphenated description I write, some other creature inside of me is excited and aspires to write.  Yesterday morning, as I did my Twitter scroll, @KellyGtoGo tweets:

In an argument for teachers to resist prescriptive writing and allow for and encourage personal reflection as part of the classroom experience,  Cindy O’Donnell-Allen begins her thoughtful article by writing, “I was a closet writer from an early age. In the second grade I wrote a poem for my classmate Patrick O’Neal, who sat alone everyday on the playground, but I didn’t give it to him” (The Atlantic).  Similarly, in my early elementary school years, I was a professional Cat Detective who, with a notebook, tracked the neighborhood cats, and wrote avidly about my adventures.  Writing was something fun, something I chose to do, without an assignment.

What does this mean and how does it impact me?
  1. Teachers need a chance to develop a new writing pedagogy.  O’Donnell-Allen wrote her article in part to promote the benefits of the National Writing Project as a life-long opportunity of professional development for teachers, by teachers, to create meaningful writing experiences for teachers.  I’ve participated in the Cal State Northridge Writing Project with @KathleeRowlands, and since the training I’ve had countless opportunities to write, collaborate, and commune with teachers from a variety of grades, contents, and locations.
  2. Sometimes we have to write for ourselves, first.  I had planned to write a more ‘academic’ post, since this blog is my Master’s Project, but I sat for nearly an hour at a coffee shop, neither drinking my soy-white-mocha-burn-my-tongue-off-hot, nor writing.  My planned blog title, “Blogging as PD? TBD” might still appear one day, I just couldn’t do it today.
  3. Writing is joyful!  I started this blog talking about how long it takes to build an audience, and yet, that is not what motivates me to write consistently.  I write because I’ve always written.  I write because I love to create.  And who knows, it may be time to bring back the Cat Detective!

    Cat Detective takes on the case of Ophelia and Desdemona
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A Master Proposal: What is the Purpose of Writing?

The never ending journey

Remember when you finished your first Master’s program? Did you swear you would never return to school again?  I did. And it’s not the first time I’ve lied to myself.  I have a Master’s as an Education Specialist, which translates into: I have a deeper understanding of current practices for attending to students with differing needs, I know current legal concerns in the field of special education, and that I’ve performed and written about an action study in my classroom.

Yet, those of us in education know that one is never done.  I returned to the late-night classes, overbooked weekends, coffee-binging, anything fried-food-eating, sleep-deprived-lifestyle to obtain a Master’s in English.

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Can Teachers Inspire a Love of Reading?

Shelfie! Teachers have been posting Selfies on Twitter to help encourage reading love.

While sipping a soy white mocha at Romancing the Bean,  the world’s cutest coffee shop which happens to be located in Burbank, I’m torn between two possible intros.    One, a personal experience in a department meeting, the other a personal experience with a book.  Since this post is about reading, I’m starting with the book.

A note on reading this blog: This will be a long post and you don’t have to read EACH section ; )  If you’d like to jump ahead to New Semester, New Reading Goals
which will discuss classroom practices for this semester, feel free (without the guilt)! 

Readicide

One book has impacted my teaching pedagogy more than any other: Readicide by Kelly Gallagher @KellyGToGo.  After asking students to chart their reading experiences outside of English class, he reports, “. . .freshmen students read an average of seventeen minutes. . .my seniors averaged thirteen minutes” (58).  Wow! And administrators, lawmakers and people outside of the classroom wonder why reading levels continue to plummet.  While Gallagher’s short book was published in 2009, I’m positive the amount of time high school students spend reading in school has decreased even more with the explosion of smart boards, video integration, and one-to-one tech occurring in 21st century schools.  Granted, I love technology for teaching, but being able to sit for an extended period of time and simply read is a skill that needs to be modeled and taught in the classroom.

I’ve had my own Kelly Gallagher experience.  A former ninth grade student came to my class after school when she was a senior for assistance on an essay she was writing on Tuesdays with Morrie.  After asking a few guiding questions, I asked her if she’d read any part of the book.  The student replied, “I haven’t read anything in any English class since yours.” In my class, students do all of the reading in class, in small groups.  Since I teach SDC, many of my students struggle with reading and I want to ensure they have support when reading any core literature.  This specific exchange taught me how good kiddos are at avoiding reading and still passing classes.

I could give a mountain full of scenarios, add yours on top, and this blog post would stretch the definition of infinity. Instead, I will simply say if you haven’t read Readicide, get it now; and if you have, consider revisiting  it.

Department Meeting

Starting the year with a new department chair is both frightening and exciting.  The first meeting started with an interesting question: What are the three most important things you want to teach your students?  We talked in small groups and shared responses.  A colleague soon called out that she wants to teach students to love reading, to which the new department chair stopped and addressed this idea specifically.  Is this a skill? Can you actually teach this? How do you assess a student’s love of reading?

I think each of us will have gut reactions to those questions in one way or another.  Your responses will tell much of how you teach and what you value. Regardless of your feelings, these are important questions to ask and address.

Continue reading Can Teachers Inspire a Love of Reading?

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End-of-Break Teacher Nightmares

End-of-Break Teacher Nightmares (Iceland, Dec 2016)

The Christmas lights are stored away, the vacation photos tagged and uploaded, the last Netflix DVD watched, the last novel completed, and it’s two days until I walk again into the classroom.  Already, the teacher nightmares are tormenting and taunting me, like the grade school boys at the bus stop when I was eight-years-old.

Nightmare #1

It’s the first day back to school and I forget to set my alarm.

Nightmare #2

Not only do I forget to set my alarm, I mistakenly believe it’s a PD day and slowly get ready, but my dress is not teacher appropriate.

Nightmare #3

I’m late, dressed in last decade’s jeans, and find out I forgot to complete an important IEP and the parents are waiting in the conference room when I arrive.

Nightmare #4

After the uncomfortable IEP meeting, I walk into 4th period class and realize I have no lesson plans.

Nightmare #5

Due to my lack of preparedness and awful attire, the class erupts into chaos and students are standing on tables, throwing things and slow-mo Judo fighting during the class.

Nightmare #6

During this moment of uncontrollable youth rioting, the Executive Director and my immediate supervisor decide to pop-in for an impromptu observation.

It’s usually at this time that I awaken, sweating profusely, trying to figure out what day it is and where I’m supposed to be.  I stumble-walk to the kitchen to prepare cupcakes and chai and turn on NPR One to connect with the world.

Nightmare #7

The reporter informs me that Trump is going with Betsy Devos for Secretary of Education.

The nightmares are normal.  I’m used to them by now.  I sometimes just have to remind myself that the only things I can control are how I react to each new situation.  As a teacher, life in a somewhat state-of-flux is ordinary. Each year I have similar dreams, but when I get in the classroom and see the kids, there’s no place on earth I’d rather be at that moment.

What nightmares do you have before returning to work?

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Organizing New Units with Google Sheets

Organizing New Units with Google Sheets

It’s December 31st and raining in Los Angeles!  I’m currently making bread, cookies, and vegan burritos to freeze.  Stopping now and then to play with the kitties, wondering if I should practice guitar, but now seems like the best time to blog about organization!  This year I transitioned to teaching SDC 11th and 12th grade English from previously teaching 9th and 10th and I get the exciting task of starting fresh.  In fact, the curriculum advisor for 11th grade English even said I should take this year to try whatever I want in my classes.  Love!!

Since I have this opportunity, I want to create units that will be useful and accessible in the future.  This very statement indicates that my units in previous years have been a disaster.  While that is not entirely true, as I’ve had some fantastic units, the materials are scattered all over the place. Even though it’s the middle of the year, the new semester is an opportunity to try something new. Thanks to a Twitter post, I may finally have an answer to my organizational nightmare.

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A Sketchy New Year: An Experiment for Spring Semester

A Sketchy New Year

You don’t have to reinvent the wheel.

Every time I have a long enough break to reflect on my teaching, I suddenly want to revamp EVERYTHING.  I want to try EVERYTHING. First, I go to Pinterest and pin hundreds of ideas.  Next, I start at least 10 massive projects to transform my classroom.  It’s pathetic!  Sometimes I start so many projects at once, when I go back to one, I completely forget my original intentions.  Well, not this year.  You will be proud of me to know that I am only planning two transformations.  Today, I want to share my thoughts on classroom note taking.

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I Got Student Feedback!!! Now What?

I Got Student Feedback!!! Now What?

It’s the first weekend of winter break (wooohoo!) and I’m sipping chai, nibbling on fresh baked chocolatey-chipped cookies, listening to a Vintage and Rare playlist on Spotify, and playing with kitties. Life is good.  The human part of me is loving this moment, but she is interrupted by the teacher part of me who is gently whispering, “You should not waste this time.  You need to be working.”

Fine!  But I don’t want to do anything too serious.  Then I remember the student survey I created at the end of the final.  I should really look at that and see how my kiddos feel about the writing process.  As an SDC English teacher, my teacher life often exists in a huge vacuum.  I create my own finals, formative and benchmark assessments.  I create my own pie charts and bar graphs to show administration student progress.  And now, I must figure out what to do with student feedback.  In preparation for writing this blog post, I realized there are three simple steps for using student feedback.

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Reflection on Close Reading Projects for Hamlet

April Peebler as Hamlet, Ambre Lee as Polonius, photo by Deborah Gascon

The readiness is all-Hamlet.

While I’ve always loved that line, I’ve never had a chance to use it in my own writing (until now).  During the summer of 2015, I was extremely fortunate to participate in the Folger Summer Academy -an intense study of Hamlet.  At that time, I taught 9th/10th–but all of the teaching strategies transfer nicely to Romeo and Juliet and Othello.  Due to fate or providence, this year my teaching schedule changed to 11th/12th–which was obviously a mandate to share Hamlet with my new classes.

We did many of the activities I learned at the Folger Institute: two or three students act out a scene, while other students direct the actors, students formed groups and prepared a scene for the class.  We did a “To be or not to be” face off where the lines were divided into two characters and 1/2 the class read one character, and 1/2 the class read the other character.

While the Folger philosophy is one that is a practice of students facing the language head-on and experiencing the plays directly, as an SDC teacher, I feel I need to apply further techniques to ensure close readings and understanding of the text.  I will share four activities I did with different classes. Continue reading Reflection on Close Reading Projects for Hamlet

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How To Embrace Your Teacher Identity

Have you ever had a 12th grade student rush into your classroom and hide in a dusty corner, far away from the door, until the bell rang? When this happened six years ago, my first thoughts were that Carl (alias) was being bullied; but this was wrong.  Most of his classes were in a co-taught setting, and English was his only class where all students were receiving special education services.  Carl was embarrassed. I said all of the teacher-y things to boost his self esteem, but at the end of his senior year, the situation had not changed.

While drinking chai and nibbling on cupcakes, I realized, just like Carl, I’ve been hiding in the corner throughout my teaching career; and I’m finally ready to come out into the sun.  In speaking with other Special Education teachers, the identity issue is not isolated or new.  This Morning Cupcakesknowledge alone, makes me feel somewhat better.  At the same time, there is a three-step, simple cure for the Special Education Identity Crisis.

Continue reading How To Embrace Your Teacher Identity

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