Friday, February 20, 2009

All Kids Have Special Needs--A Poem

I've always loved this teacher poem. Sometimes I recite it when presenting professional development workshops. Whenever I do, several teachers in the audience ask me to email it to them afterwards. The poem's a great reminder that in reality, ALL students have special needs of one kind or another! One child's strength may be another child's weakness.

I Am Your Student

I am your student.
Today I come to school as every day, with no breakfast.
I will go home to an empty house.
My parents are too busy for me.
I am your student,
Care about me.
I am your student.
I live with my mother.
I don't know my dad.
I have been in four schools in two years.
I am your student,
Have patience with me.
I am your student.
My mother and father can't speak English.
They can't help me.
I want to do well,
I am your student,
Help me to fit in.
I am your student.
I don't like school
I want to learn about life,
I want to do things with my hands
I shake and get nervous when I have to write an exam
I am your student,
Help me to stay in school.
I am your student.
My family has a lot of money
I have everything I could want
I wear the latest clothes and I put others down who are not like me
I am your student,
Help me to be tolerant of others.
I am your student.
I am very quiet and shy
I cannot work in a noisy classroom
I find it hard to make friends
I am your student,
Help me to cope with daily life.
I am your student.
I am hearing impaired,
Please don't ignore me because I can't communicate well
I need you to accept me and believe in me
I am your student,
I need you to reach my potential.
I am your student,
Adults in my life are very abusive
I get into trouble
I fight with others
I am your student,
Help me learn to be peaceful.
I am your student.
I have a learning disability
Do not look upon me as a burden
I am your student,
Teach me the skills I need.
I am your student,
I miss a lot of school
I use drugs and alcohol
My marks are poor
I am your student,
Help me to accept myself.
I am your student,
Care for me,
Teach me
Help me to be a good person.
I will remember you forever.

- Pat Krushen

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Electronic Learning Game Misunderstanding

I've talked with teachers and hired a certain monkey to conduct the official surveys. Some teachers use electronic learning games in their classrooms, but we know others would rather kneel on wasabi peas for 72 hours for some reason. So of course, some teacher stores and catalog companies are reluctant to carry these instructional tools. (Hmm, I suddenly don't like where this post is headed.)

Okay, but I'm always on a need-to-know basis. Some might call me nib nose, information hog, hungry ear--whatever. (I was the annoying kids in school who always asked why? why? why?) I had to research why some teachers don't use electronic learning games.

Guess what my surveys revealed? It turns out that most of the reasons are simple misunderstandings! (Oh crappy dap--I just hate it when that happens!) Here, have a look...

Teachers' top objections to electronic games:

1. Electronic games are just toys.
HUH? Sure, some are just toys, but many electronic games cover a variety of key educational skills at multiple levels, giving them the learning power of a stack of board games! (Teachers love educational board games, right? No one argues that they're just toys!) I'm actually the person who manages the correlation of Learning Resources electronic games to the specific skills in the state standards, so I know how well they align!

2. High-tech gadgets such as electronic games are just a novelty/trend.
Ridiculous! In a recent national survey conducted by an ed organization, students reported that they feel they must "power down" at school--so unfortunate! They live their everyday lives in the technology age (laptops, cell phones, texting, PDAs, YouTube, Facebook, etc.), but when they go to school, it all comes to a grinding halt!

As teachers, we need to constantly try current methods and materials to best reach our students. I would even go as far as to say that most kids nowadays have an electronic learning style, and that integrating electronic games into our lesson plans is the least we teachers can do to meet them half way.

3. Electronic games encourage anti-social behavior.
I agree that anti-social isolation is bad and that students shouldn't stick their faces in front of computer screens all day every day. However, not all electronic games are computer-based. What about the tabletop and jumping mat versions that encourage multiple players to interact together? I think those versions are best. For example, take a look at this video of Alpha-Bug Step 'n' Spell® in action:
(BTW, there are some good quality computer learning games that encourage student interaction, too.)

4. I don't have a computer (or enough computers) in my classroom!
Again, not all electronic learning games require a computer. There are awesome electronic mats and small, portable games that target key educational skills. Give 'em a try, folks!

5. I don't have time or money to deal with technical difficulties and batteries!
Yes, sometimes life doesn't go as planned, but if we don't use something because we're afraid it will break, where does that get us? What does that teach our students about trying new things?
Just be sure to choose electronic games manufactured by a reputable company. Most will guarantee their products, and many offer replacement instruction guides and game parts.

If your supplies budget is too small to cover batteries, look for electronic games with optional AC adapters. I also know a teacher whose local big box store donated batteries to her classroom right before the beginning of the school year. It doesn't hurt to ask!

To check out Learning Resources electronic learning games, visit:

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Toddler Fingers Are Made for Poking

My 13 month-old daughter is now known as the "Little Mommy" at day care. As one of the oldest in her class, she spends a lot of time with tiny babies. Whenever the babies cry, she tries to comfort them by giving them toys--so sweet!

Her favorite toys at home are her dolls (or our electronic gadgets). If we pretend to make crying sounds, she'll rush over to a doll, pick it up and insert her own finger in its mouth--adorable, but...YIKES!!!!!!!! Is my thumb-sucking little "Jack-y Horner" sticking her finger in babies' mouths at day care? GERM ALERT! GERM ALERT! (Hence, her constant snot.) And oh, does this make my daughter a certified hands-on intervention specialist?--he he!

The point is that she likes babies, at least the happy ones. So Friday when she pinched her finger in the oven mitt drawer (she has declared it hers and leaves pot holders all over the house), how did I comfort her? I ran it under cold water immediately, but when she kept crying and became impatient with the whole faucet scene, I got creative. I popped open the laptop--the one she's obsessed with minus the Control Key that she stole 3 weeks ago--and found giggling baby videos on YouTube®. She LOVED them!!! Definitely try this "cheer-'em-up" trick with your kiddos.

While playing around online, I found a cute video of a kid her age who could point to the various parts of his body after being asked where are your eyes? where are your ears?, etc. So I thought, hey, this would be a great activity for me to do with my daughter! She knows many of these vocabulary words already, and the activity is tactile/kinesthetic and a great vocabulary builder.

I thought I'd start with the nose--bad idea! I asked her where it was, and she found it all right. She kept...uh...picking a winner, digging for gems, poking her brain. Yes, no matter what I asked (Where are your ears? Where are your eyes? Where's your head?), she just kept jamming her finger up her nostril and laughing hysterically. Hmm, I wonder if my little jokester is sticking her finger in babies' NOSES at day care, too?

I guess hands-on isn't always a good thing...

Thursday, February 12, 2009

True Elementary Teacher Quiz

Anyone who is or has ever been a teacher has been there--had one of those weeks when you wonder if you're really cut out to be in your profession...

Monday, a parent leaves you a nasty voicemail. Tuesday, 3 kids puke all over your circle time rug. Wednesday, you witness a 15-minute shouting match between the fourth grade teachers. By Thursday, you're trying to remember what your password is.

During downer days, try to find some humor in your life as a teacher. Whip out this quiz and have a chuckle. I've used it a lot when doing workshops with teachers, and it always puts everyone at ease!


Are You A TRUE Elementary School Teacher? Let's Find Out:

1. Do you ask guests if they remembered their scarves and mittens as they leave your home?

2. Do you move your dinner partner's glass away from the edge of the table?

3. Do you ask if anyone needs to go to the bathroom as you enter a theater with a group of friends?

4. Do you hand a tissue to anyone who sneezes?

5. Do you refer to happy hour as "snack time"?

6. Do you shout "no cuts!" if a shopper squeezes ahead of you at the checkout?

7. Do you say "I like the way you did that" to the mechanic who successfully repairs your car?

8. Do you ask "Are you sure you did your best?" to the mechanic who fails to repair your car to your satisfaction?

9. Do you sing the "Alphabet Song" to yourself as you look up a number in the phone book?

10. Do you say everything twice? I mean, do you repeat everything?

11. Do you fold your spouse's fingers over the coins as you hand him/her the money at a tollbooth?

12. Do you ask a quiet person at a party if he has something to share with the group?

* If you answered yes to 4 or more, it's in your soul--you are hooked on teaching.
* If you answered yes to 8 or more, well, maybe you should begin thinking about retirement.
* If you answered yes to all 12, forget it--you'll always be a teacher, retired or not!


Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Nonpoisonous Elapsed Time Lesson

There's this math topic that most grades 3-5 teachers (at least) simply hate to teach. And, their students usually describe it much like they'd describe the Grinch: "a three-decker saurkraut and toadstool sandwich with arsenic sauce"--NASTY POISON! It's yucky old elapsed time!

Elapsed time is one of those topics that is just hard to "get". It's one of the skills most likely to stump students on standardized math tests (along with number & operations fact fluency, measurement, estimation, and fractions). And while there's no way we can make elapsed time as easy as basic addition, there are steps we teachers can take to make it easier to understand.

First, we need to be proactive and attack the topic of elapsed time head on. We already know from experience that this topic will trip up kids. So, let's keep it on our teacher minds all the time. This means not only planning big lessons on it, but integrating small elapsed time learning opportunities (mini & "tiny" lessons) into our plans.

One of the strategies I've always found effective is to first relate elapsed time to a child's everyday life. Kids sometimes need to see it from the practical point of view in order to comprehend this abstract concept. This full lesson that I've used in the past incorporates literature, writing, art, and math word problems. It can be taught in its entirety or broken up into mini lessons as you see fit.

Capture the kids' attention by using literature to introduce elapsed time. I like Telling Time with Big Mama Cat by Dan Harper for this purpose. This book written for ages 5-8 has a much lower reading level than for most third through fifth graders. But, I've used it anyway because the simple text makes the content easier to swallow (gulp) for kids at many levels and makes them more comfortable with the intimidating topic of elapsed time.

The book follows a day in a cat's life hour by hour (lots of naps, no doubt). After reading the story, explain that elapsed time is the time it takes Mama Cat to do something. For example, if she eats between 9 and 10 a.m., the elapsed time is one hour. (BTW, that's a S-L-O-W kitty. My dogs never lollygag like this when it comes to eating!)

Next, students can do a personalized activity that integrates math and writing to develop higher- order thinking skills. Have each child write the story of his or her day. Ask students to include start and end times when writing about different events and illustrate the times on the clock. Each page can cover a different task such as “I ate lunch from 12 to 1 p.m. We had pizza, my favorite.” Then, the student can draw himself eating pizza in the cafeteria and include a clock in the illustration with a (hopefully) correct time drawn on it.

The next day, students can revisit their books, write the elapsed time for each section, and check their work in pairs. Later, have groups of students work on elapsed time word problems. Once they can successfully solve these problems, they can write their own, and trade with a partner to solve them.

For reinforcement, I also periodically rotated hands-on activities/materials through my math centers:

  • Elapsed time board games--the Race Around the Clock™ skateboarding one is WAY cool!

  • Dice--for quick calculation quizzes, students can use Time Dice to roll a start and end time and then calculate the elapsed time.

  • Timelines--provide students with a horizontal visual representation that allows them to easily manipulate start and end times and count elapsed time forwards and backwards.

  • Clocks (duh)--but not your plain old versions. Mix it up with more unique clock formats.
  • Time Tracker™ Timers--some specialized timers help kids develop a good sense of what a specific length of time feels like.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Comprehension, a Multisensory Experience?

When you get right down to it, comprehension is THE most important skill in the curriculum. Uhh...why study anything in school if you don't ever understand what the heck you're supposedly learning, right? This is especially the case in literacy. Comprehension is the ultimate goal of reading instruction.

So, knowing that most kids are kinesthetic/tactile learners, we shouldn't be surprised if a child has a problem understanding what he/she reads after only using a book as a learning tool. I know, I know. You're thinking, "How can SHE, a TEACHER, be anti-book?" The truth it, I'm the biggest book nut of all. I have at least 10K books in my house. (This is probably what put a crack in the foundation in my basement!) I once worked at a university library for 5 years. I live and breathe and keep on living in order to READ.

But, I also know that kids having a hard time comprehending what they read won't just eventually "get it" if their teachers continue to use only the same methods and print materials over and over again. You have to try something more engaging, more innovative and more hands-on to reach struggling readers. Tap into their senses. Make reading more active in every sense of the word. Here are a few ideas to try:

  • Whip out the paddles! (Corporal punishment is NOT involved!) Reading Comprehension Boards give kids a place to record answers to key comprehension questions/strategies. Then, students hold up the board by the handles, allowing you to quickly assess which kids do & don't understand. (Hint: You can also make your own with paper plates and craft sticks.)

  • Cube-o-questions--Type a list of those key comprehension questions to ask students before, during, and after reading. Print & tape the questions to the sides of a large cube or a small cardboard box. Presto! You've got yourself a comprehension manipulative. If you're looking for more durable versions, try these: Reading Comprehension Cubes, Question Word Cubes, Retell a Story Cubes.

  • Picture this--Use a photocopier to enlarge a photo or copy an interesting magazine picture. Glue the image to cardstock (notepad backing) and then cut it into puzzle pieces. In a small group, have one child ask 3 other students comprehension questions about a book they've all read. A right answer is rewarded with a piece of the puzzle. Students collaborate to put together the pieces and try to figure out what's going on in the image. Like this game concept? Check out Get the Picture™ Main Idea Game.

  • Graphic organizers--These visual conceptual representations are very powerful. They are some of the best comprehension tools because they also cover Bloom's taxonomy. For example, when students fill out a fishbone map to identify causal relationships, they're ANALYZING. When students use a Venn diagram to compare and contrast, they are EVALUATING. Hefty higher-order thinking skills! Here's a book and a chart filled with nothing but graphic organizers: Encyclopedia of Language Arts Blackline Masters and Graphic Organizer Flip Chart.

  • Lights, camera, action!--Encourage kids to put storylines into action and make a video. They can reinact the story in their own words (summarize), guess the ending and act it out (predict, infer), or recite word for word (practice fluency). Consider posting the videos on Teacher Tube® so other teachers can use them in their lessons! (When posting student content online, never disclose students' identity and always have parents sign permission slips.) No access to a video camera? No problem--Readers' Theatre Pocket Chart.

  • Slap happy! Word Swatters™ (fancy fly swatters) get kids using their gross motor skills to identify any important text on a big book page (parts of a book, unfamiliar words), projection screen, or white board.

  • Get a clue--Little word sleuths love to use magnifying glasses to hunt for context clues. Encourage them to look over the page to hunt for hints (in text or pictures) that will help kids infer meaning.

If you're looking for even more ways to make comprehension multisensory, try tying the text to another subject. Sometimes it's easier to come up with hands-on activities if you build in math, science, social studies, art, or music content. Plus, cross-curricular lessons help students build an even stronger understanding while also helping YOU fit all the skills into your lesson plans.

Lastly, if your students are intimidated by reading an entire story or chapter, try giving them smaller bits of text to tackle. Magazine articles, a paragraph from a fun children's website, or passages on reading cards are good bets. I prefer non-fiction, photo-illustrated cards with fun animal facts such as Animal Classifying Cards, but leveled Reading Comprehension Cards with readings covering a variety of topics are more versatile.

I can dream and wish that teachers across the country could afford to pick up all the cool comprehension manipulatives and materials mentioned above. Yes, it's usually faster, cheaper and more environmentally friendly in the end to buy durable commercial versions of these tools. But hey, you can make your own if need be. We teachers are kinda creative like that. ;)