Amazing Things!

I have tried to explain what it is like to work with people with autism many times. I have tried to explain the beauty and the struggle, the different way that they see the world and the ways that it makes me a better person to have them in my life.

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Here was my post for Autism Awareness Month Last Year.

I have tried to make people love them and care for them like I have and every time I seem to come up short. I do not have autism and how can I expect to explain what the world is like for them when I don’t truly know.

Explaining differences in learning styles to children is something that can be done really well or really poorly, children are fairly flexible and welcoming if they are just sat down and explained things if they get the chance to live life with someone that is different then them they will come to understand the differences in people aren’t bad or scary, but can be beautiful and help to teach us so many new things about the world.

But often times as adults we are scared to talk about the differences, we have grown or been taught to fear the things that make us different, to look at the kids that learn differently then our own and to put them in a box as “abnormal” we pick out differences to make us more comfortable, to find our place. But that leaves us to afraid to talk to our children about the beauty in the world, the beauty in uniqueness and how to be a friend through it all.

In comes Amazing Things Happen, a beautiful video made to show kid things from a kid perspective to help understand students with Autism. I would love to show this to inclusion classes at the beginning of the year and have a discussion about all of our differences.

It shows the ways to be a friend and the way that you can grow together!

Take the time, watch it ,spread the word because when we work together,

Amazing Things Happen!

Here it is!

-Rae

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What’s the big deal with the Circut?

So I have seen them around, at Micheal’s, Hobby Lobby, Amazon. Pretty much any craft store ever. Mr. H at one point was even receiving a commission from his job to sell more of them. But up until this year I never really thought twice about them, or really understood what they were. I thought they were just a fancy laminating machine, and my 20 dollar laminator from Amazon does just fine, so I thought, why would I need that?

But then I wanted to make words to put on my new classroom door, and I started researching the best ways to do it and I came across a million Circut articles, videos, blogs so I started looking into it and thought. 400 dollars, yeah no thank you!

And then a magical thing happened I was looking in my school store room for something and looked up to the back corner where no one ever goes . .. and there it was, a Circut expression 2 waiting for me! So I took it down to the secretary and asked about it. Her response was

“Oh yeah someone donated that and I don’t know how to use it, take it home and figure it out if you want.”

So that’s how I ended up with a borrowed Ciruct to play with and see, what’s the big deal with them anyway?

Now let me just tell you the first night after I got my mat and vinyl in the mail, there were mistakes, angry faces, cussing and eventually giving up after completely ruining one piece of vinyl and thinking to myself. This thing is not worth the trouble. I could just cut it out my damn self.

But after a good nights sleep, round two went much better than round one and we came out with some beautiful words to adorn the front of my classroom as the students enter.

Be Kind
Work Hard

 

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Because they are simple enough high school students can’t make too much fun of them and they still hold meaning for all my K-12 students.

Will this experience lead me to invest 300 dollars in my very own Circut. . . I think not.
At least not as long as I have one from the school to use!

 

 

DIY Pinterest Teacher!

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I have always wanted to be a Pinterest teacher, the teacher that has the perfect room that somehow stays clean after 30 students live in it day in and day out. But it turns out that 30 students or 16 students with special needs in my case can make it pretty easy to turn into an Amazon prime teacher; even easier with that two-day shipping! Like what is this magic?

But this summer I came across this stool at a yard sale for 2 dollars

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I couldn’t resist the idea of a DIY teacher stool project.

So I turned to trusty Pinterest and began looking at people who are actual Pinterest teachers and set to work copying their wonderful work.

The post I found most helpful and the stool I decided to try and recreate came from One Artsy Mama, and you can find that original post with all the supplies and goodies you will need here (.http://www.oneartsymama.com/2016/08/thrift-store-challenge-babanees-inspired-painted-stool.html?crlt.pid=camp.8BUAsF5KNkB4)

I set to work cleaning and lightly sanding the stool before applying my first coat of paint to the bottom half of the stool. I used Folk Art Gold paint and let me tell you, the first coat was ROUGH! I considered starting over with a new color. But after the second coat, it was looking much better, and I set into starting on the top half of the stool.

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After I finished painting and letting it dry I knew I wanted something written on the top along with my name.

I have a shirt with the saying

Be like a pineapple
Stand Tall
Wear a crown
And be sweet on the inside!

I decided that this cute saying also carried an important meaning for my students about self-confidence and so that is what I wrote on the top.

I used the transfer method found here, (http://angelamariemade.com/2016/11/how-to-easily-transfer-a-design-onto-wood/)

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I LOVE the way that the finished product turned out. It is ready to enter the classroom in a few weeks!

And at least for this week, I am finally a Pinterest teacher, take that my Amazon prime addiction!

-Rae ❤

Must Have: Read, Reread, Write Strategy for Older Students! **Freebie**

If you are like me you are always looking for easy independent work for my struggling students, to reenforce strategies we work on in reading group. I have spent hours searching the internet for a reading comprehension packet that was both appropriately scaffolded; but also contained grade level content for my students that need work on their reading comprehension. Every time I could find reading fluency packets, or reading comprehension packets that were way too hard. Or I was stuck with packets that were appropriate but had content for younger students. So after attempting to piece together other peoples comprehension strategies and finding things that actually worked at different grade levels.
 I decided to make one myself.
Enter, Read, Highlight, Reread, Write!
During guided reading groups I use re-reading and color coded highlighting for my reading comprehension groups all the time.  I have found that this ensures the students are reading the text multiple times and also helps their brain locate and remember the important details to include in a written response question.
Many of my students that struggle with reading comprehension are able to immediately recall details and facts about what they have read but are unable to locate it to use in a written response answer. They have not been explicitly taught memory strategies to help them locate and recall important details after a delay.
For many students, explicit instruction is key for improving skills and independence.
These packets are placed in my student’s independent work stations so that they can practice these skills outside of guided reading group instruction. I have used guided reading time in order to teach and enforce the reading, highlighting, rereading strategy so that students are familiar with the strategy prior to independent work time.  These packets include both fiction and nonfiction texts and help build scaffolded study skills and reading comprehension strategies for students while utilizing grade level content.
As students become more familiar with the strategy I may include texts at their instructional level and request that they use a written response question to identify the key points to be highlighted. Effectively increasing their independence and working towards removing the scaffolds I have in place.
Because once they are independent they can use this strategy for ANY text they are given in order to identify and recall key details.
Here is a preview of the second-grade packet, I hope this strategy proves as valuable for your students as it has for mine!
            
This NO PREP preview will be available for FREE on my TPT store, you can find that here, www.teacherspayteachers.com/store/my-spedtacular-special-heart , so that everyone can try this strategy out, then full reading comprehension packet will be available soon, organized by grade level for easy use!
-Love Mrs. H

All the things I didn’t know teaching was. . .

 

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When you decide, hey I am going to become a teacher, you think of the little smiling faces, the children, you think of reading lessons, you think of addition and subtraction, you think of hugs and bubbles in the hallway, and watching little people grow up into bigger people

In my case I even thought of the terrible behavior, the hitting, spitting, cussing, and crying. I thought of the ways I would have to teach them things that most students learn inherently, they ways to speak to each other. The ways to treat people with kindness and communicate your wants and needs. All the ways I would help the world see my students for the wonderful people they are. I thought of all the things that I would teach my children and the things they would teach me. I did a residency year so I had been in the district for over a year already so I think I was more prepared than other new teachers but I still walked into that first year as a teacher only to be blown away by the things I did not expect. . .

  1. The politics, the teachers union, the disagreements with the district, the school board, the superintendent and the instructional superintendent’s.. . all the politics Teacher-meme-05-political-view-on-teaching.jpg
  2. Speaking of politics, why was my worth, my salary, always up for political debate. I was not prepared to be so frustrated with people who have never taught or in some cases even been a student in a public school continually telling me that my job was worth less than I was already receiving. Essentially telling my students that they are worth less
  3. The nights up thinking about my children, wondering if they got dinner, whose house were they sleeping at tonight. Did student Z get to speech therapy on time? Did student J make it home on the bus okay? The amount of time outside of the classroom that I spend just worrying about them.
  4. Also that fact that I started calling my students, “my children” I have no biological children but every year I gain a few more of “my kids” and I will do everything in my power to know I love them just that much.
  5. The amount of work I would do outside of the classroom, that wasn’t “teaching” I was prepared for the weekly staff meetings that for a special education teacher, rarely, were applicable to my teaching life. But I was not prepared for the hours spent at home researching the new teaching styles, ways I could reach a difficult student, ways I can improve my teaching practice. The hours that I was not worrying about my students, I was  planning for my students.
  6. Being a boss. . . so this may be a little unique to the special education world but I walked out of grad school and into supervising 12 students and 3 paraprofessionals full time. Now I knew I would be supervising these three paraprofessionals and I walked in with their beautiful schedules in hand ready to kill it at being a boss. But then relationships happened. . . and I realized that I was managing one woman who had been a para almost as long as I had been alive, one girl who got the job because her aunt worked at the school and had never worked in special education before, and one girl, my age, who wanted to be an art teacher. How could I offer advice to the woman who could have been my teacher? And I quickly learned that the other two would be more drama than the students. . . It took me a few months. okay, maybe a year to figure out the balance of being a friend, a boss, and a teacher. . . okay maybe I am still working on the balance but we are figuring it out.imgres.jpg 7.How much I would live for the good days! I wrote a blog post about this earlier explaining in detail how much a good day can mean in the special education world. The smallest things can make a huge difference because, without the little things, there would be so many reasons to stop being a teacher. But with the little things, by becoming excited when Suzy read 5 words correctly today when last week she only read 3. Sharing the joy with a student when they didn’t hit anyone for an entire day, and then an entire week. Cheering as a student begins to speak more clearly, or communicate their needs in any way.                                                                                                                                                                                                          Now, these little things may look different in a general education classroom but they are still there, all of the little things those students bring to your life, the reason that we think about them at night. The reasons we care about them, the reasons we continue to do what we do. When the politicians tell us it is not worth it when the salary means you cannot buy a house in your own city when you watch little people have to deal with things no one should ever deal with. Remember the little things, remember why you started teaching think back to hugs and bubbles in the hallway, think about the smiling faces and when a student accidentally calls you Mom. Because no matter what things come up that we didn’t expect these are the reasons I am a teacher!

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This is an Instagram post from that first year teaching when we were celebrating one of those little things!

Let’s go back, back to schoooll!

How many teachers change room every year? This is my first year having to change classrooms over the summer and it has me spending my days dreaming of classroom decor! How will I set up my space, my tiny space! How will I use the walls to enhance student learning and of course look cute!

In my old classroom I had both a sign language and braille alphabet hanging up on the walls, they were there for students in my classroom to understand the differences in how some of our students communicate. I had one student who was blind and wrote and read in braille, the braille alphabet helped many adults in our classroom to help teach him. The sign language alphabet sparked more thought and admiration from my other students than I could have ever imagined. I would find that students would stare at the hands the shapes on the wall, studying them much more than they wanted to study their letters on the page in front of them.  When students were unsure of their answers they would stare at those letters and sign their answer instead of saying it out loud. I loved the discussions about sign language we would have and the ways they grasped onto it as a form of communication.
So now as I am moving into my new classroom I wanted to be able to display these two languages again for my new students, to see the ways that the visual representations of language help students grasp onto language in a way that letters don’t for them.  In order to show these languages and also save some space since my wall space is very limited, to achieve both of these things we came up with an alphabet that contains all three! And here it is!
 
These visuals will be displayed as part of my word wall in my classroom! I am so excited to be able to use them as conversation starters and as visual cues for language for my students.
I can’t wait to do a “classroom tour once my little room is all set up! I can’t wait to show you the ABC’s in their . place and our little speech/OT corner.
We share a room in my school myself, Speech and OT. Speech and OT are online services at my school,  we are in a remote location and this is the best solution to still meet our students needs. I want to create a classroom that really shows a shared space, so I am developing a speech and language area, complete with posters and speech and OT visual cues. So that my students feel connected to more than just their instructors and the computer, I want to create a classroom experience for them.
 
I can’t wait to set these up so that the students remember that they are using multiple parts of their body when they are speaking. That they are active participants in the activity and that it involves more than just their voice.
These back to school set up ideas are available at
teacherspayteachers.com/store./my-spedtacular-special-heart
I can’t wait to share this year with you!
-Mrs. H

Watch Them Grow with Growth Bins!

Hello from “Teacher Summer”. . . where we spend all of our days drinking margaritas and lounging on the beach, while we laugh at our friends that are still working. And we never spend our days in teacher trainings or anxiously trying to plan how to move classrooms in two days before the students come, we never start back to school planning in the middle of July right? No, no that would mean we work during the summer. and that could never happen. . .  right?

Now Welcome to Real Teacher Summer where at least part of our days are spent thinking about, planing and anxiously awaiting next years students, and if you are like me, you are trying to get some of your back to school planning done on those amazing free days you get. Enter my new multi-syllabic word flash cards!

This year I am  moving into a new position and as a result I am going to try something new. I have been teaching a self contained special education classroom for students in 3-5 grade for the last 3 years. This year I am going to be teaching intervention and resource room students with mild to moderate disabilities in grades K-12. Yep K-12 terrifies me as I think, how will I meet all their needs, how will I put students in groups, how will I help students in such a wide range succeed. Then I found a blog about IEP boxes, you can read the original post here, http://www.thebenderbunch.com/2016/06/iep-tubs.html

She was using these tubs as she called them for an elementary classroom, actually a self contained classroom but I thought this could help with some of my anxiety and allow me to hit multiple students in multiple grade levels during overlapping times and still be working directly on their goals. So this summer I have been building these boxes. I am going through each students IEP goals and finding different activities to hit these goals and still keep students organized. Within each student’s box will be a classroom timer like these ones.  Which I guess are really kitchen timers I got on amazon for 14.00 for a pack of three.
Many students will be working independently on fluency or in partner pairs with another student or myself of an aid. They will be using these timers for self timed, math work, fluency work, or just to set a timer for how long their independent work in their My Growth Bins. For some students the time .set on these timers will grow throughout the year so they can increase their independent work time, for some students it will simply be a way to keep them on track.

The actual work inside each bin will vary depending on specific goals for each student, many of my students in the middle grades are working on fluently reading multisyllabic words, and so I created easy to copy and use flash cards, for these students. These cards contain 2, 3 and 4 syllable words and are scaffolded to included words broken down into syllable and ones that are not in order to help reinforce the strategies students learn to read these words fluently, and then allow them to show growth.

 Here is an example of the flash cards broken down into syllables. I have these hole punched and laminated for easy reuse from student to student.

The students other work varies from math practice, to social skills, and WH questions, and reading fluency and comprehension work. All work that they are able to complete independently for the first 10 minutes or last 10 minutes of our group.

Each student will have a bin that is color coded, without their name on it, this helps some of my older students especially feel less self conscious about the work they are doing. They are able to focus on their own work without being worried about having their name and therefore grade  or age attached.

I use the color coded system in all aspects of my classroom from data binders too graded work and displayed work for multiple reasons but this is a big one. Future blog posts on the color coded life to come!

I plan to use these during overlapping time for each grade level, the way my schedule is set up there are a few minutes where I will have a variety of grade levels in my classroom at one time. This allows me to easily progress monitor goals, make sure that they are working specifically on goals and increase independence. If you are looking for a way to help your students reach these goals please check out my “Growth Bin” products here, http://www.teacherspayteachers.com/store/my-spedtacular-special-heart

You can download the multisyllabic words flash cards for FREE here http://www.teacherspayteachers.com/store/my-spedtacular-special-heart

And follow me on Instagram here @my_spedtacular_special_heart_    for more spedtacular ideas!

I hope you find something helpful to use with your students, whether finding a way to differentiate in an general education classroom, a resource room, or a self contained classroom all students need something a little speducatular!
-Mrs. H

My life is Spedtacular!

Welcome to Spedtacular Me! I am a special education teacher in an elementary school, I teach in a self contained classroom my students by definition have an intellectual disability of some kind they range in ability level and disability about as much as as they range in personality. I love being able to spend my life with them and I frequently share quotes on facebook and I have been told they are people’s favorite updates so here I will share more specific stories about my students, their lives, their disabilities, how other people perceive them and of course my life as well. I am working on writing a book about this topic so I will share some pieces of that as well. Welcome to my world.

 

Why getting married two weeks before starting my career totally rocks!

So I got married on August 7th, this year and then exactly 10 days later I started my teaching career most people think this sounds like a super fast turn over and I should still be relaxing by the beach with my new husband not spending my nights pouring over IEP’s and schedules and student work while my husband is at home. However I am so grateful that I made both of these transitions within a month of each other.

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  1. My husband is totally amazing! He has sat up with me while I was almost in tears over an IEP I had to write in 24 hours… my first IEP by the way, and then let me cuddle up next to him to make myself feel better
  2. I came home today to a CLEAN house, he works from home and used his time to clean the house, so instead of coming home to the same mess that I left I got to come home to a sparkling house.
  3. I have someone to bitch to about everything that happens throughout the day even when it is totally unjustified he will nod and agree and tell me that it will all be ok.
  4. I don’t have to worry about being the best first year teacher I can be, AND dating, and honestly I am so excited to never have to worry about dating again, and that is the best.
  5. I missed the Tinder time of dating, Ben and I frequently joke about “wait which way is yes, swiping left or swiping right?”
  6. I get to feel like such an adult I get to be married and a full fledged teacher, I am officially in a new stage of life and I will get to look back in 40 years and remember this time with that same man and look at how much my career and marriage has changed.
  7. And Ben gets to be there with me every step of my “adult” way.
  8. And most of all, I get to come home to my best friend every single day, I get to drink a beer with him, I get to brew beer with him, I get to watch him grow, we get to grow together, we get to be together and I couldn’t think of a better way to start this new stage of my life.

❤ Kelsi Rae

Becoming Ride or Die For My Students

Maya

When I began my residency, during the summer courses we spoke for hours about how to form relationships with students of all backgrounds and the importance of developing these relationships from the beginning of the school year. Everyday, I left partly confused how could you not form relationships with these students? How could someone enter into a classroom and not leave changed, molded a little bit by each and every student that they work with? I later have come to realize it is possible for some, but not for myself and for this reason my entire philosophy of teaching stems from this idea. That each student in my classroom will leave changed by the relationships and culture I foster and that those connections will push them academically and socially long after I am their teacher.

In one of my graduate courses this year we were introduced to Jeff Duncan-Andrade and the term, Rida’s while I had heard this term many times before in music and popular culture I had never heard it in relation to a teacher- student relationship. Duncan-Andrade describes the relationship like this,

“They risk deep emotional involvement with the majority of their students and they are sometimes hurt because of those investments. The depth of their relationships with students allows them to challenge students and get notable achievement and effort.” (Duncan-Andrade, 2007)

This deep emotional involvement is something I want to wear on my sleeve; I want my students to know that I am willing to take a risk for them, so that they will be willing to take academic and social risks for me.

This year I have been fortunate enough to make a deep connection with two of the schools most challenging students. These students are too young to have a predetermined path in life, they should understand that people care about them and want them to succeed, however for these students that was not the case. They believed that they were the “bad” kids and they were destined to be arrested or worse. By fourth grade one student understood the inequities of the world that I am still uncovering for myself. Through bonds I took months to build and develop with these students, they not only knew that they could come to me but that I would fight for them when needed and tell them the truth when necessary. I can remember on many occasions telling a crying student in the hallway, “Who is this hurting right now?” and walking them back to class, because that action was not taking away from their teacher but it was hurting them as a person. When a student knows that you care about them, I believe you can be more honest with them, and instead of shutting down the student will be more receptive to these requests. They will take an emotional risk for you because of the investment you are making in them; students will not take a risk for no reason.

I don’t want to form relationship because that is what you are supposed to do in order to be a successful teacher I want these relationships because that is how we grow. As humans we make connections to one another that push us to be better, or hold us back, we cannot live in a solitary existence no matter what sort of relationships you make they will shape you as a person. I want my students to come into my classroom and form the type of connections that push them to grow. As we grow together through the year these relationships will be something that form me as a teacher as well as forming the people my students will become. As they grow up they will become people who form this type of relationship with others because I formed one with them.

In order for the bonds I build in my classroom to continue to make a difference after the year is over, students have to learn to create these relationships with each other as well. The friendships that students build with each other in my class will cross cultures, languages, disabilities and more to create a community where each student feels valued and supported. Through creating these friendships between each of my students, and hopefully my students and other students throughout the school and the city, my sphere of influence will grow exponentially. Many of my students have more than one factor, working “against” them when it comes to forming lasting relationships, often they are from different backgrounds than their peers and have one or more disabilities that may cause them to look or act differently. In order to become truly an agent of change in the district I want to begin to break these barriers down and show that though some people may need something different, that if we all work towards our goal each individual can succeed. This year I was able to work with the Affective Needs classroom, often these students were talked about by adults and teachers as “those kids” and they were rarely included in school or classroom activities. In the spring we fought to create a dance number and perform it twice in front of the entire school at the talent show. The students were able to hear the cheers from the crowd and give high fives after and to just be kids, as opposed to “those kids.” This small step allowed a few barriers to be broken down with their peers they began to form relationships based on shared interests rather than animosity based on the differences. People will never become blind to the different colors, cultures and disabilities my students have but by creating relationships with them these things can be seen for the value and not the differences they represent. As students grow they will become the people that set the standard for these connections, they will be able to dictate the type of bonds that are made with people of varying backgrounds. I can only control what is in my arena to control and influence but the more students I come in contact with the more I can create change, long after they have forgotten the rules for lattice multiplication.

In order for my students to be able to make the most impact possible I need to be able to push them academically as well. The achievement gap between students with disabilities and those without continues to be staggering not just in our district but also across the country. In order for my students to become my extra arms to influence the world I have to show them the value of their education as well. The idea of rigor has been something I have struggled with throughout my residency year. I wanted to push my students to make connections, to learn more and understand the intricacies of each text genre that we studied, to be able to put their words into writing but I was unclear of how to make this process rigorous for them. During my final lead teaching experience I decided to implement a writing block during our group sessions, each week the students completed a constructed response question and throughout the week they would reflect on their writing, edit it and ultimately assign a grade to their writing. At first students would give themselves a perfect score even after numerous conversations we had about things that could be improved in their piece of writing. Through open conversations and one on one meetings with each student by the third week they were able to truly become critical of their writing and think about what they wanted to change in the future. This task had become rigorous in thought because the student was not only thinking of completing a task at hand but looking to the future and how this task could help them as they continued to grow as writers. In one of my coaching conversations I received feedback that students were not afraid to have these one on one meeting about their writing with me even if it wasn’t their best work, and that students were comfortable having a differing opinion as me when it came to assigning a final grade to their writing. When a student in 4th grade can come to a teacher with a well developed argument regarding a grade they are becoming prepared to have difficult, professional conversations throughout their life. They will not only have to argue for grades, but jobs and other advances their entire lifetime, and these skills will last long after they have forgotten what the R in the RACE strategy stands for.

As I look both behind me through my residency year and into the future of what I will become as a teacher, one thing is clear I want the skills and connections my students make in my classroom to outlast the small academic victories they have. These skills will push their academics they will continue to grow and to close the achievement gap when they discover these things about themselves. These risks will be rewarded with grit, empathy, resilience, optimism and more, the life skills of a successful person and will lead to academic success as well. I want to create well-rounded students and students who want to challenge the status-quo. To say it is not always right simply because it is the way it has always been done. Like in many cases Maya Angelou said it best, “ People will forget what you said, will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” I want to make my students feel that they are the agents of change; they can create a difference in the world if they set their minds to it. And I will do that by showing my students that someone truly cares for and believes in them at school, that when they come to school someone is happy to see them. I will roll up my sleeves and get to work being a Rida for my students.