Posts Tagged ‘Special Education’

Probably the most significant change that took place within the last year is that I changed schools, changed classrooms, changed students, and moved. So the past seven months or so have been spent getting to know an entirely new population of students: teaching years 1-3 were spent in an MD classroom with a variety of students—students with an Autism Spectrum Disorder, Down syndrome, Cognitive disability, and one with a rare disorder called Smith-Magenis Syndrome. There were a few others students with varying disabilities too and the age range was vast: 2nd grade through 7th grade.

Then, on a whim, I applied to the Educational Service Center in my home county. I noticed an open position on their website and sent off a resume the next day. I was called back about a month later—at the last moment when I had already given up hope of being called—and the director conducted a pre-interview question and answer type conversation (i.e., a phone interview) and asked if I was interested in a high school position. It wasn’t my first choice, but I was interested in moving back near my family so I agreed. Then I waited…and waited…and waited. No call.

Then one day, in July 2014, I received a call from the director and was asked if I was still interested in a position with the county. Funnily enough, I was in my classroom tutoring a student when the call came because I had just told my principal a day or two before that I had given up hope and would be back next school year. She was gracious when I eventually broke the news of my impending departure.

Anyhow, I said I was still interested and I was told that an elementary position had become available and would I be available for an interview—in like two days! The rest is history. I scheduled my second interview. Passed. Then went on to a third interview with the building principal. Passed. Had a background check. Passed. Reference check. Passed. I was hired and within the next thirty days packed a house, rented another, resigned my position, rented and loaded a U-Haul, moved, and began the long process that moved me from a mixed age MD unit in a rural community to a strictly elementary (K-2) ED unit in an urban area near my hometown.

Moving from a solidly district school classroom to a county run classroom is a strange thing that required all sorts of adjustments both mentally and professionally. Although I am housed in a regular elementary school building, accountable to the building principal, and can fully participate in all building-wide activities I am not—nor are my students—officially attached to the school or the district itself. I work for the county (not the local school district), my students come from all over the county (I have eight students from five different school districts), and I see my official principal very infrequently (yet she’s always only a phone call away, so this is no criticism, and the building principal is always available to us also).

One of the great challenges I have had to master is the art of communication. Since my students are drawn from five different school districts, I have to communicate with no less than five different special education directors. I also have to communicate with several administrative people at the county level—for attendance, for classroom needs, for payroll, and much more besides. I had to learn how to negotiate scheduling issues when writing IEPs in order that all parents, therapists, district representatives, and ESC representatives can be present—people coming from all over the county. I also have to contend with five different bus schedules—no small feat when it comes to the writing of daily report cards, packing of backpacks, and actually getting children out the door.

Another significant change is that I also have three adults in my room besides myself. Thus I am also managing the work and break schedules of three other adults. Add into this mix managing the therapy schedules for eight different children who at varying times attend occupational therapy, physical therapy, and speech therapy. Finally, throw into this dough the specials schedules also: art, physical education, library, and music and making certain that the paraprofessionals are where they are to be.  

Wow, that’s a lot to contend with now that I think about it. But let’s not stop there. Let’s also consider that I am still finishing my residency (I am a year three working on my Resident Educator Summative Assessment) and anyone from Ohio knows what a pain that is, that I am still required to go through the Ohio Teacher Evaluation System (which requires 2 formal and 2 informal observations, the writing of Student Learning Objectives, and more), and that this year I had to learn a new aspect of education in Ohio (because my students are not cognitively disabled,  they are not eligible for the Alternate Assessment which means they must be prepared for regular state testing by third grade): RIMPs—Reading Improvement Monitoring Plans for the wonderful 3rd Grade Reading Guarantee.

Make it better: KRA—Kindergarten Readiness Assessment; First Grade Diagnostic Assessment; Second Grade Diagnostic Assessment. Parent-Teacher conferences.

Really, this year has been an amazing, whirlwind of adventure and learning because besides everything I have just mentioned, there is the daily pressure of patiently working with students who have an emotional and/or behavioral disability, writing lesson plans (for 8 different children in three different grade levels!), managing IEPs, communicating with parents (and home districts), breakfast, lunch, behavior intervention plans, math, language arts, science, social studies, data collection, progress reports, report cards…and we have three months left in the school year.

It never ends, and there’s never enough time.

I am not writing any of this because I am looking for sympathy or because I want anyone not to go into teaching. On the contrary, I think this is reality—not just for me, but for every single special education teacher who goes to work every single day and lives on the island I like to call ‘where is my professional support team here in the school?’ I was talking about this one day with the music teacher and the physical education teacher and we all agreed: if you teach specials or special education, you often teach on an island. Not many people understand what we do every single day in the special education classroom; specials teachers come close, but only to an extent. Being a special education teacher or an intervention specialist is a lot of work, and I think it might be easy for the young teacher to get overwhelmed in those early years if they do not have the proper supporting staff from administration all the way down to classroom paraprofessionals to mentor teacher during residency.

As I said, this is reality. We have to work very hard to participate with the general education teachers—they have their own unique problems to deal with so I’m not disparaging them—so that our students can be included as often as possible in school wide events and activities. I work with a great group of teachers who have graciously allowed me to integrate some of my students into their classrooms for short periods each week. This is reality: if you are preparing to be a special education teacher, these are the things you do each day—and let’s not even get started on supplies, funding (I recently learned of the joys of; you can contribute to my current project by visiting, and simple things like printer ink, paper, glue sticks, and curriculum).

And there is the ongoing, constant need to create new learning tasks for your TEACCH bins or for IEP objectives, or for Dr. Seuss week. (Thank God for Teachers Pay Teachers and Teacher’s Notebook!!)

The reality is that in a sense special education teachers have to work hard(er) to make certain our students are getting everything they deserve each day. It’s not easy work, and we do it for reasons we often cannot define or place a finger upon. We do it because we look deep into our students and we see potential that might otherwise go unnoticed or be overlooked because of behaviors. We do what we do because we want our students to have hope and because we want our students to have the confidence they so obviously lack. We do so because our students are special and not typical. We do what we do because we often think to ourselves that we might have done better ourselves if these classes had existed when we were school children and struggled with large groups, not enough attention, and lack of confidence.

This is reality. I have quite a few teacher friends in other areas of life—church, acquaintances, and elsewhere—and sometimes they say things to me like, “I am thankful for you; for what you do. I could never do it. You must be special to work with those kids.” Sometimes it is kind of embarrassing when they say it because I think, “Nah, I was trained well. Anyone can do it if they are trained well.” Then other times I think, “You know what, maybe I am good at what I do. Maybe I do it because I can, because someone else cannot.”

It’s not a bragging thing, it’s a truth thing; a reality thing. You are in the place you are right now because you can do it, because someone else cannot do it. You have the gift(s) to help your students realize their potential every single day. Surround yourself with solid people, work hard every day, and most of all love your kiddos. Not everyone can do what you do; not everyone will.


I am happy to say that I did not make this task. One of the paraprofessionals who worked in my classroom did. All I had to contribute was a 'seal of approval' and a grateful heart that she put her skills to use and make something wonderful and useful for the students.

IMG_1054This was not a difficult task to build. Nor is it a difficult task to use.

Materials: library pockets, marker, laminate, shapes (either bought or homemade or perhaps from an Ellison machine), a sheet of card stock cut lengthwise, and glue (I prefer Elmer's Rubber Cement).

First, write the numbers that you wish to use on the outside of the library pockets. In our example, we were working with addends that resulted in sums 6-10. You can use whatever numbers (sums) you like so long as the addends correspond to the numbers written on the library pockets.

Second, take whatever little shape you have decided to use and using a Sharpie or other permanent marker, write your addends upon them. In the example from my classroom, we have used three different addends for each sum. These addends are written upon the shapes as shown below–in this case, we used stars. I think they were purchased at the Dollar Tree or some other thrifty store.

IMG_1053After the addends are written upon the shapes, you may choose to laminate them. I personally laminate everything in the classroom because I work in special education and things tend to get folded, spindled, ripped, mutilated, and chewed upon with great frequency. This helps protect them and give them a longer shelf life–so to speak.

Third, take the library pockets and glue them to the piece of card stock (or you can use a piece of poster-board too). If your school has a laminator, it would be a good idea to laminate the entire project.

And that's just about it. The great thing about this task is its flexibility. You can use any numbers you like and even though we used addition facts, you can also use subtraction, multiplication, and division so long as the numbers correspond. IMG_1051

One final thing, I have no problems also allowing my students to use manipulatives (objects) to represent the math they are doing at the time. Students who are visual learners will appreciate having counting bears or some other such objects to help work out the problems.

Two things of note:

    1. Storage might be somewhat of an issue given that the project is oddly shaped. I solved this problem by folding the game in half.

    2. The possibility remains that the students might memorize the answers based solely upon the placement of numbers. Feel free to mix it up as much as possible in order to prevent such a reflex.

Common Core Standards addressed for addition and subtraction: K.OA.1, K.OA.5, K.OA.3, 1.OA.5, 1.OA.6 (perhaps more).


Related articlesSee also this game that we built in my classroom. It too deals with addition and/or multiplication.

Learning Addition or Multiplication Playing Games

I teach special education. That might be evident by the address of the blog; maybe not. Either way that is how I make a living. It's not an easy calling, nor is it always fun. It's daily challenging, but I am a trained professional so I take it all in stride.

Many days there is one thing the students do that bugs me. I hate to say it, but it's true: laughter at inappropriate times. Really it makes no sense to me when children just start laughing for no reason in the middle of a lesson on multiplication. It makes no sense to me when a student throws object after object around the room and laughs hysterically as if pieces of paper fluttering to floor is really Oscar worthy in the best comedy category. Yet that's what they do. Often. Without any regard for the fact that it bothers me. Without caring a minute that no one else in the classroom thinks it is funny.

Laughter. Inappropriate laughter. Out of context laughter. Laughter.

Then I got to thinking about my students laughing, often uncontrollably for long periods of time, for reasons apparent only to themselves. To be sure, I don't spend any time at all telling them to stop laughing. I might point out that it is not appropriate at the moment but honestly there is absolutely nothing I can do to prevent or stop a student from laughing at all the wrong times, again, for reasons only God and themselves are privy to.

Then I got to thinking about laughter–uncontrollable, ridiculous, out of context laughter. Part of my work is to teach my students about social etiquette. But I have to ask: what is the etiquette of laughter? Maybe laughter bothers us. Maybe out of context laughter makes us uncomfortable. Maybe it angers us because we want to know what the joke is and no one–especially students who have communication issues–is telling us or letting us in on it. Maybe what we perceive as out of context is, to the student with disabilities, perfectly within its context.

Then I got to thinking about laughter–you know, just plain old silly laughter that is loud, raucous, annoying, and downright inappropriate. I got to thinking about funerals and why it is that at funerals we spend so much time crying and weeping and mourning. I thought about my own funeral and that when it happens I don't want a preacher but a comedian conducting the service and that people damn well better be laughing because I know I will be. Someone better stand up and tell inappropriate stories about all the stupid things I have done in my life and how the only way I am seeing Jesus is by the grace of God.

I was thinking about laughter…and I got to thinking that my students make me happy and that I would much rather have a classroom full of out of context laughter than out of context crying and yelling. 

There I was: at work, not so much enjoying my day. The day didn't start off too well. It didn't continue too well either. There is so much to do and so many distractions. People coming in and taking students off for therapy, phones ringing, school psychologist stopping in and handing me a stack of papers that I have to complete on one of my students. There's always so many things going on in the room at any given moment.

It's not so much mayhem, but neither is it much less. I kind of like it that way. I always have at least an idea of what we are doing in the room, but to the uninitiated it probably appears like a three-ring circus inside a whirlwind trapped in a teapot.

So there I was, working, wondering–trying to imagine how it is that I can either repair some broken relationships among my colleagues or make them worse or just leave well enough alone. I'm really good at making matters worse, but I've been working hard to make things better. I take my work very seriously, but I confess that most of the time working in special-education feels much like an being naked-and-afraid on a deserted island. That being said, I get lonely at times for adult companionship at work–perhaps many other teachers feel the same way, but I'm willing to bet that it is just a wee bit worse for male teachers working in special education.

I confess to the sin of second period self-pity.

I was working with a student, a little girl to be exact, and I was feeling a bit salty about some things. Then, while watching her work, a thought occured to me that significantly brightened and changed my day: she was working; working hard. I had given her a paper to complete which contained about 40 math problems. They started out very simple and became increasingly more difficult as the paper went along. Out of the 40 or so problems, she managed to get exactly one, the first one, correct. After that it was all a complete guessing game–no math, no calcuations, no counting, just writing numbers on the lines.

I watched her write every one of those numbers; you know why? Because she was writing those numbers to please me. She was working about as hard as a person who had no idea what they were doing could. She was not for a minute going to return a paper to me that didn't have a number on every provided blank answer space. She was writing with the intensity of a professional athlete. If we gave grades based on effort, determination and intensity, she would have passed with flying colors.

It was at that moment that I realized that nothing else about my job matters except that little girl (who represented all the students I work with and for each day.)

At school, it's only about my students. Her smile melted me. I have much to learn.

I have been thinking a lot about educational reform since I started teaching three years ago.As a second-career teacher, I have seen many of the arguments, pro and con, for reform. I have been thinking about it because it seems like it is always in our faces. I’m not sure teachers are going to come out on the winning side of this debate/conversation. I am sure that teachers, teachers who have ideas, need to be more involved in the conversation and that those having the conversation need to stop using teachers as their piñatas.

It is important, I think, to seek input from various places and from various people, but I remain steadfast on the idea that those who are in the classroom day after day after day are the ones who have the best ideas for how and what to improve in our educational ‘system’ in America.

In his short review of Amanda Ripley’s book The Smartest Kids in the World, David Steiner wrote this astounding sentence:

To put the matter bluntly, if all U.S. schools applied the rigor and attention to their academic offerings that our high schools pay to their highest-profile sports programs, our students would come far closer to matching their demographic peers in high performing countries. 

This corresponds to exactly the point I made in my first post of this series: we need academic boosters as much as athletic boosters. That is, I see so much emphasis on academics in public schools that you would think kids only have one option: to play professional sports as adults. In other words, by over-emphasizing athletics we are necessarily de-emphasizing academics. Steiner could not be more correct in my judgment. 

But I digress. This final part of the series is focused on a final few things that I think we should consider when it comes to educational reform. Since this series has gone on for a long time, I will keep this part of the essay short and focus on three final areas that I believe need to be addressed in order for true reform to take place in the American Education system.

First, I am of the opinion, and there seems to be quite a mountain of evidence, that we start children in formal academics far too early. When I was in graduate school, I heard a great deal about so-called early intervention—especially as it relates to students who are eligible for special education services. There may be some merit to giving new parents to children with special needs the sort of support and intervention they will inevitably need as their child progress at a non-typical rate of development. I’m not arguing against that. What I am arguing against is the incessant compulsion our politicians seem to have for continuing to fund educational programs where children leave the home and start school at 3 or 4 years old.

Here’s what is written at the White House website:

Expanding access to high quality early childhood education is among the smartest investments that we can make. Research has shown that the early years in a child’s life—when the human brain is forming—represent a critically important window of opportunity to develop a child’s full potential and shape key academic, social, and cognitive skills that determine a child’s success in school and in life. 

Participation in high-quality early learning programs—like Head Start, public and private pre-K, and childcare—will provide children from all backgrounds with a strong start and a foundation for school success. These programs also generate a significant return on investment for society; numerous economic studies have documented a rate of return of $7 or more on each dollar invested through a reduced need for spending on other services, such as remedial education, grade repetition, and special education, as well as increased productivity and earnings for these children as adults. 

There it is: ‘significant return on investment for society.’ It’s all about the cash. Education cannot simply be about return on investment–there are other ways to get a good return on investment. But take it back a step: if this is the time when a child’s brain and cognitive skills are full of potential and fully open and opportune window, why is the assumption that the best place for them to be is away from their family and at some public school program? Why, oh why, is that the assumption? Frankly, I cannot think of a worse place for a child of 3 or 4 or, to be sure, even 5 to be than someplace apart from their family.

I’m not sure how the evidence in America can point to the benefits of early childhood education and the evidence in England point in the opposite way, but that is exactly what seems to have happened. Some say children shouldn’t start school until age 6 or 7. In England, there is an entire campaign designed around the idea that children start school too soon and that it is harming them in numerous ways. The Too Much, Too Soon campaign website features numerous links and other evidence to support this claim. (See also David Whitebread of Cambridge University.)

I’m sure others have written more substantially on this topic than I am devoting in this one post, and that is fine. The bottom line is, however, that early childhood formal education is not, contrary to the official lines of politicians democrat and republican alike, as effective as they want us to believe. I will leave this for now, but there is more to say about it in the future.

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There is not a day that goes by that I do not think about the work I do and how I do it. More than once I have heard from other staff, who have spent any time in my room, that all teachers ought to spend a day in my self-contained, multi-disability resource room. I think I probably agree…they should come in and see what we do because general education teachers, generally speaking, have little idea what we do in special education. I seriously believe that sometimes they think we are not even educating the students in our classrooms.

As a new special educator (but as a second career and, thus, older teacher), I have been writing down some thoughts and observations that have helped me, and continue to help me, become a better intervention specialist. Here are 9 tips that have helped me.

First, be prepared for a lot of ill health, absenteeism, late arrivals and early dismissals. It can be a blessing and it can be annoying, but whatever it is, on whatever day it is, you have to be prepared for it. There are doctor appointments, there is a higher susceptibility for illness, there are appointments with psychologists or social services workers, and a plethora of other places your students will have to be. And it’s not just at home either. At school, your students will have appointments with counselors, occupational therapists, physical therapists, and speech pathologists. This means, in short, that you have to be prepared and flexible.

It means that you may have the most beautiful lesson plans ever written and have to put them on hold for another day or two or three or month. It means that some students will be perpetually behind in their work. I have had a student who was supposed to move out of state who actually never left town, was gone for two plus months, and is now returning to class. There’s a lot of work to do and there is no point in getting frustrated by the hecticity and chaos of the students’ schedule. Roll with it.

Second, be prepared to write an IEP, for a student you may have never met, on a moment’s notice. New students are arriving and new students are being identified for special education services all the time. You need to have a plan in place for how you will bridge that gap when it arrives. Often the ETR or IEP meetings are scheduled at a moment’s notice: be prepared. Gather as much information as you can, rely on state standards (or common core) for the language you will use in the IEP itself, and take a few minutes to talk to the student, if you can, beforehand. The key is to be ready–practice if you need to.

Third, be prepared to play ‘catch-down.’ This will tie in with another point I make later, but something I realized early on is that it is unreasonable to ask my students to move at my pace because then I’m always asking the students to play ‘catch-up.’ So, I took the initiative, placed the burden on my own shoulders, and decided to play ‘catch-down.’ I made mid-course adjustments so that I am moving at their pace. Now this is not to say that I never prod them to work harder or faster. I do. But it is to say that it’s OK if you do not finish a project in one day. I made a deliberate decision to simply slow down the pace.

Fourth, hurry is a choice. I was walking with my principal one day, talking about school stuff, and it was clear she was in a hurry. I get that. Principals have a lot of work to do. But it also occurred to me that being in a hurry is not something I have to do. I can choose to walk at a casual pace if I want to. Playing ‘catch-down’ is also a deliberate choice. It means that, even though it appears we have very little time, we actually have as much time as we decide we need. There is no point in getting overly stressed about time. Learn to manage it. Learn to make time your servant, and not the other way around. I heard someone say that ‘teachers do not get to choose when they go to the bathroom.’ I disagree. It seems to me that it makes better sense for a student to learn a few things thoroughly than a bunch of things poorly. Take your time.

Fifth, be prepared to write lesson plans for a variety of students who have a variety of abilities and a variety of interests and a variety of learning styles and a variety of skills. In the cross-categorical classroom, we have students with Downs Syndrome, Autism, emotional/behavioral disorders, and whatever else comes our way. And we do so happily and gladly. But we also know that no two of our students will learn the same way, at the same pace, and with the same methods. Lesson plans typically need to reflect this. Be ready to write plans that differentiate your instruction for your students. It is typically a lot of work; be ready. (Also, let's note that IEPs are individualized for a reason.)

Sixth, be prepared to communicate with parents often. I personally send home my own version of a daily-report card–daily. There is also email, phone calls, parent teacher conferences and the spur of the moment, unscheduled, my-kid-got-kicked-off-the-bus meetings. I tend to be pro-active about communication that way I am not caught off-guard. I try to communicate as often and as much as I can without interrupting the daily routine. It is not always possible, neither is it always easy (especially if you are communicating discipline issues or IEP issues), but it always necessary.

Seventh, be prepared to deal with the ignorance of general education teachers, but also be cooperative and helpful. (This is not an insult to gen-ed teachers. It is a reality. We all have our own specialty areas.) Generally speaking, regular education teachers are not trained to deal with an autistic student who is having a major meltdown. Generally speaking, regular education teachers have very little idea what we do in special education (which is, to be sure, teaching students just as they do, but differently). So when I say ‘ignorance’ I simply mean not specialized or unaware of what 'we' do. Therefore it is important for the special educator to be patient with other teachers (and they us), supportive, helpful, and deft in conveying information that will be helpful to them if they ask questions about their own students. In other words, be open; do not be a know-it-all. Help when asked, observe when not asked, and communicate clearly always.

Eighth, be prepared to spend a lot of time alone. Yes, teachers get lunch & prep time, but that does not mean that our students take a lunch and a prep time. They still have needs and they still could melt-down (sadly, I have seen it and it typically manifests itself in unstructured areas or when they are with inexperienced staff or paraprofessionals.) Again, the special education teacher needs to be flexible. On the other hand, special education is often a small and overlooked ‘department’ in the school. There’s not a lot of time for team meetings with other special educators and given the needs of our students, we must spend a lot of time with them. Be prepared to make some friends you can count on or be prepared to spend a lot of time alone.

Finally, ninth, work that your students do does not have to be perfect, it just has to be theirs. Bottom line is this: I want the parents of my students to be proud of their son or daughter’s work, not mine or the paraprofessional's. We could do the work for them, make it look pristine and wonderful. Or we could leave it to the students–there will be too much glue, wrinkled papers, sloppy writing, overworked crayons, and more. It won’t be perfect, but it will be theirs. And this is the most important thing I can say to new special education teachers. Let the students be proud of the work they accomplish on their own without your help. It’s important that we guide our students, not control them.

Special education can be tricky. We want our students to do and be and succeed, but we (at least I) want it to be their best effort not mine. I practice hands-off because the only way I know if a student can do something is if they do it. If they try and fail, that’s OK. We learn in failure too. But if they never try, and they never fail, then what has anyone learned?

So that's my 9 tips for new special educators. What are some of the tips you would offer to new special educators?

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Loving my Students

In part one of this three part series, I wrote about athletics and academics. My point was not so much that we should eliminate athletics in schools as much as we should deemphasize them. I realize this causes a lot of problems for many people given how much of our national budget is spent on sporting activities yearly, monthly, daily. I have no problem with sports in their proper place. I just think that too many people get too excited about student athletes and not excited enough about student academics.

In this second part of the series, I will address the following issue: I believe that if we are going to make any advancement at all in education reform we desperately need to find a way to lessen, if not eliminate, government involvement in local education. Marc Bernstein wrote in June 2013:

Federal involvement in education has increased geometrically under President Obama as his Secretary of Education Arnie Duncan used 2009 anti-recession Congressionally-approved stimulus money to fund state and local school district grant programs that were focused upon student accountability through standardized testing and teacher evaluation based upon those student test results.

But he is also careful to note that government involvement (or meddling) has been on a steady increase since the 1980's. (Bernstein is writing specifically about school vouchers, but I think the point is all the same. Vouchers is just one manifestation of the disease of government meddling.) As he notes:

The upcoming battleground is the larger issue of education–what role should the federal government play versus the states. Historically, education has been a local matter; however, the federal government has found a persuasive way to become involved, namely, by offering large amounts of money to those states and school districts which implement federal initiatives. As always, money is a great motivator.

Money is a great motivator. And it is sad to say that educators have reached out, grabbed the shiney apple, and not thought for a minute about the consequences of doing so. 

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LogoA quick post to alert readers to a new resource (new to me that is). The website is called We Are Teachers and from a quick look, there is a lot to enjoy.

There is a brief registration one must follow in order to access all aspects of the website. It took me about 3 or 4 minutes. A profile page can also be edited in order to make connections with other teachers. 

There is a section containing blogs where teachers can find ideas and inspiration for the classroom. There is a section for lessons and resources for a variety of classroom subjects. Much more can be found at the website and I'll look forward to exploring it more deeply later. For now, I'm merely giving it some props without endorsing everything that is there. 

Finally, there is a section dedicated to special education–which makes me very happy. Complete with blogs, lesson ideas, and lesson plans specifically dedicated to the intervention specialist should prove useful and worthy of repeat visits.  

Other sections can be found for science, social studies, writing, technology, language arts and more. Check it out and see if it is helpful to you. 

I saw these links in my Twitter feed today and thought they were important enough to repost links here.

The first deals with suicide and isolation among people with Asperger's.

When I googled the terms "suicide" and "asperger's", I was surprised at how frequently the subject seemed to be treated with confusion – why would a person with Asperger's feel driven to suicide? To me, the answer to this is obvious. The need to bond with others is a basic human need. The very definition of Asperger's is to have trouble fulfilling that need. So why is it surprising that someone with these difficulties might fall into despair?

As educators, it is important that we take time to note when our students might appear a little or a lot out of sorts. It is not always easy to help our student through difficult times, but paying attention and being aware of changes in their routine or demeanor might mean the difference between life and death. 

The second article, 15 Workplace Behaviors that Exclude, also help us see that we do need to be sensitive to people who have an ASD. Certain behaviors that we might think are innocuous might create a hostile workplace environment. The bottom  line to this article, is that we should simply be courteous. Frankly, it really doesn't matter if the person has an ASD or not, most of the behaviors the author speaks of are just plain rude. 

The third article, What Does it Mean to Have Asperger's Syndrome?, is a brief introduction of sorts to Asperger's Syndrome:

In general, people with Asperger’s generally have trouble with social interaction, communication, as well as regulation of the motor skills and sensory systems.They also can develop obsessive and compulsive tendencies, which manifest themselves in various ways.

We can look around and see that perhaps we have been just a bit unfair or unkind to people who might be on the spectrum. So as educators we need to continually raise awareness of Asperger's and Autism in order that people will be a lot kinder and slower to judge. Knowing can lead to understanding and understanding can lead to more compassionate responses towards those who are on the spectrum. 

This is one of my main 'job's as a special educator. I mean this sincerely when I say I am sometimes left flabbergasted at the ignorance of the general education teachers. I think a large part of our work is to help keep the general education teachers informed (or at bay) when it comes to our students who are on the spectrum. This in and of itself is a monumental task–one would never imagine that people so educated could be among the worst offenders when it comes to students in special education. 

Hopefully you will find something interesting in these three short posts. Again, it is important that we, as educators, continue to raise awareness and advocate for our young friends (students) who happen to be on the autism spectrum or who happen to be differently-abled. I believe it starts with us–eradicating ignorance and snuffing out the flames of discrimination. Our goal is, as always, to help out students move about in the real world as fluently, frequently, and freely as possible.  

Everyday, typically developing students and adults absorb and interpret thousands of pieces of data. Students in special education classes absorb these data too, but oftentimes have a great deal of difficulty interpreting their meaning. This, in turn, makes daily communication a chore for most students. Furthermore, not knowing how to interpret the data received often leads to awkward and/or embarassing social moments.

Students in my resource room, perhaps especially noticeable in students with and ASD, have deficits in communication, play, social skills and relating to others (Rao & Gagie, 2006 membership to Council for Exceptional Children may be required to access full text). A significant portion of my time is spent in developing ways to help these children communicate their needs, their feelings, their wants, their frustrations, and, in some cases, just to say something as fundamental as the ABCs or 123s. 

In response to the need to generalize an understanding of facial expressions among my students, I developed this sorting task. Originally, this task had four categories the student would sort, but in this latest iteration I chose to excise the 'shy' category given that it was too obscure. Then we went with only three categories: sad, happy, and angry as shown below. 

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These three categories are at the top of the board and a line separates them. Down the columns, as you can see, are pieces of Velcro. The students attach pictures of faces to these. In the next picture, you see the faces. These faces have been cut from old magazines, shaped, and laminated in order to preserve them for many uses (we also have a bunch of extras we keep separate).

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In the original design of this task, the faces were all cut to the same shape. What I found is that this was just a bit confusing at times and offered little in the way of self-correcting strategies. In this revised version of the task, we cut the faces into one of three shapes: triangle, circle, or square. These three shapes then correspond to one of the three emotional categories: sad, happy, angry. 

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This is a very simple sorting task and costs virtually nothing to create. Any piece of cardboard will do; any face from a magazine or google search will do; and you can decide which categories you wish to use. Sometimes it is difficult to find more categories and the pictures can oftentimes be rather difficult for the students to interpret–due to their subtle nature. I work with elementary students so these three categories are easiest to find and the easiest with which to work. 

When the student is finished working with the task, simply fold it up and put it away! I use this task to help students learn the subtleties of facial expression and the varieties of ways people show happiness or anger or sadness. But I also hope that the students will learn to generalize these categories–so I'm kind of working backwards in a sense. 

It also seems important that the pictures we use are in a rotation too. So I have another bag of faces and we are always in the process of looking through magazines for more. Again, ask your librarian for magazines that are about to become garbage. It keeps them out of the landfill and they are useful for creating wonderful games. 

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This is a very simple task to create, you get to recycle, and it is flexible enough that the categories can be altered or adjusted for age appropriateness.  Let me know what you think or what sort of alterations you make to improve this idea. Thanks. 

Edit: I came across an article at Psychology Today written by Lynne Soraya called Empathy, Mindblindedness, and Theogy of Mind that I found very helpful and pertinent to this blog post. From her conclusion:

In her article "Who cares? Or: The Truth about Empathy in Individuals of the Autism Spectrum," researcher Isabel Dziobek outlines her study on the subject of empathy.  Through the course of the study, more than 50 subjects on the spectrum were evaluated against neurotypical control subjects.  The results? To quote Ms. Dziobek – "More generally speaking, our data shows that people with Asperger syndrome have a reduced ability to read other peoples' social cues (such as facial expressions orbody language) but once aware of another's circumstances or feelings, they will have the same degree of compassion as anyone else."

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Every time there is a presidential election we hear folks asking what the prospective candidates will do about ‘the problems with our educational system.’ It gets old very quickly; nevertheless, it has become a staple of presidential campaign platforms and so it is necessary to talk about education, sadly, from a political point of view.

In 2008, then Senator Barack Obama made a speech at a school in Colorado. He was, I suppose, in part laying out his agenda for how to ‘fix’ education. He spoke that day about No Child Left Behind which he simultaneously praised and condemned. Condemned might be too harsh a word, but since he was in large part appealing to his constituency, it is apropos. And then he hit the nail on the head: “We don't have to accept an America where we do nothing about six million students who are reading below their grade level.” That was probably a political dig, but I agree even if I disagree that we were ‘doing nothing about’ it. I think if we ask any teacher, they would disagree that ‘we’ were doing nothing about it.

Whatever else we might say about teachers, students, parents, politicians, or custodians, this is a problem: children cannot read.  As an educator, I am only too well aware of the struggles our children have when it comes to reading. Being a newer educator, I’m not exactly certain yet where or what that disconnect is, but there are reading issues prevailing in our classrooms.

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of reading programs available and there are thousands of well-educated, dedicated, passionate teachers using them to help children read. I know that the teachers I work with would balk at the idea that they are doing ‘nothing about it.’

So, if that is true, and I think it is, how can someone start off a blog post, syndicated by Huffington Post, that starts this way: “The education reform movement is failing”? (Vicki Cobb) I’m not sure what education reform movement is being referred to because I thought our president had solved all those problems and had reformed NCLB; I guess I was wrong. People demand teachers be accountable; politicians act; people get frustrated when teachers do what politicians say. There is one disconnect. 

Personally, I do not happen to believe that education needs to be reformed. Maybe people's expectations need reformed. Maybe where we spend our dollars in education needs reformed. Maybe the way we teach each individual student needs to be reformed. At the end of the day there will always be problems until we address some seriously significant issues–simple issues–that will not be solved by merely throwing more money at the problems. We need to reform our mindset about how we adults are behaving when it comes to education. We don't need education reform; we need people reform. 

In part 1 of this 3 part series of posts,  I will begin laying out what I believe will help improve education and might bring about some of the reform that people are evidently clamoring for in the United States. Maybe if we practice some of these things we can help close the achievement gap that exists between the USA and, say, China. At minimum, I would like to see our children become better learners, better readers, and take a life-long joy in learning about this world in which we live.

First, I think we should de-emphasize athletics in schools (which is not to say eliminate). I’m sure this will rankle the hearts and minds parents whose children derive their self-worth from their ability to throw or catch a ball, but I think it is necessary. I do not even think it is enough to have eligibility tied academics. A Notre Dame football was recently suspended from the team for exercising ‘poor academic judgment.’ So of all the football programs that exist in the USA, we hear about one player being suspended for academics? Really? And this is supposed to teach us exactly what? Of all the programs that exist in the USA there is seriously only one athlete having academic issues? Really?

I think athletics are over-emphasized, over-valued, and an overall distraction to academics in our schools. What I mean is this: I’d like to see as much emphasis, enthusiasm, financial support, and volunteerism from parents for academics as there is for athletics. Why not have a booster club for academics? Why not have cheerleaders for ‘nerds’? Why not have book clubs? Writing clubs? Chess clubs? Math clubs? Cross-country reading groups? Academic baseball or golf? We should have art shows and talent shows. We should have drama clubs. 

It seems to me that we have no problem whatsoever raising thousands of dollars for new football stadiums in the USA—at the taxpayers expense!—but we have to beg, borrow and steal when it comes to a new playhouse or library levy (and I’ll have more to say about the arts later in this series). Author Anne Lamott has done significant work when it comes to libraries and I have appreciated reading about her passion for these ‘places of small miracles.’

If we want to help children keep reading, reading more, reading better then we should not have to worry about budget cuts affecting libraries or curriculum or the arts first. The majority of the population can live without school athletics, but you cannot even be an athlete without knowing how to read and think and comprehend.

I’m not opposed to athletics. I am opposed to the infatuation we seem to have with them and the lack of enthusiasm we have for reading or learning. I want to see academic competitions with parents lined up out the door. I want to see more things like Literacy Night that we host at my school a couple of times per year (in contrast to the hundreds of athletic events we host/participate in yearly). Maybe we could have teachers on the radio calling commentary on students while they are taking a test: “I see Johnny is erasing his answer on #3…what’s up with that Bill? Oh, I see…he wanted to add another paragraph and cite some references. Good for Johnny!”

I don’t know. All I’m saying is that maybe a switch of emphasis will help bring about the reform folks are looking for. Maybe it’s not reform of the same tired methods we need, as much as an utter revolution of ideas and emphasis?

One final thought. Why is it if you are an athlete your coach can demand that you spend x amount of hours working out, lifting, running, practicing, watching film (even in the summer!!) and getting your body in shape and building stamina and that if you do not meet x requirement, you don’t play. But if a teacher makes a similar requirement of a reading or math student it is an issue because ‘it might cut down on family time’ or some other such nonsense? Think about all the hours demanded by coaches all in the name of ‘being the best player’, but that backlash teachers receive if the same student has an equal amount of reading to do before the next day. Think about all the evenings and Saturdays parents give up for athletic competition, but how many parents show up to school on test day to cheer on their kids?

You want your student to do better on tests? Well have them read for an equal amount of time that they practice their football or basketball skills.

Reform or revolution? I think by and large we have our priorities way, way out of balance in America.

In part 2 of this post, I will discuss my second practical thought on how to improve education in America: Lessen government involvement. 

Not many of the tasks I post about here happen due to careful, calculated efforts on my part. Sometimes I am simply riffing from another idea I see. Sometimes it is out of sheer necessity. Sometimes it is pure luck. Such is the case with this task: it was pure luck that I happened to have in my classroom, stuck in the closet, three different sizes of Play-Doh canisters awaiting purpose. And a game is born. 

The canisters happened to be empty because, as it is in life, Play-Doh when played with enough is eventually left out or falls on the floor or is eaten by hungry students and thus an empty container is born. Luckily for my students, I never throw anything away that has a lid. Everything is useful. (Seriously, the smallest containers have been in my classroom since January 2012. I'm not even sure we used the fake-doh that was in the canister because my paraprofessional would not permit it. She said, "It's fake!")

So gather the Play-Doh containers, grab an empty shoe box, and sort through your box of random or leftover manipulatives and, Voila!, a sorting, ordering, sequencing task is born. 

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For the most part the lid colors are the same. Only the smallest green lid differs from the two larger green canisters. There was no intent here; just what was available. I will probably rectify this at some point in the future–and if you want to use this task, you should probably just build it correctly to begin with–but for now, it is sufficient. 

You can see that the three canisters in each column are of three distinct sizes. There are also four distinct colors. You can use any colors you like, but I chose simple colors for the purpose of this task for a specific reason: there are objects inside the canisters that match the canister lids. 

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Notice also that the sizes of the objects are also relative: small, medium, and large. These objects fit inside the small, medium, and large Play-Doh canisters according to color. Really, this task is about as simple as it gets. 

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Below is the jumbled mess. You can start the task here by asking the students to sort the objects by size, by matching the manipulatives to the correct canister size, or matching by color. Frankly, you can have students work this task any way you like. That's what is fun about it. (I start with all the lids off the containers too just to make the mess in the box look even worse.) Differentiate the task by including less objects and/or less containers. Some students may need only one size; some may need only one color; others may need only one set of objects. Really, it's up to you. 

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At the end, all the pieces fit nicely into an empty shoe box for safe and convenient storage. You may want more uniformity in your choice of objects that go inside the Play-Doh canisters. That's fine. Honestly, I should probably be more concerned about it, but again, for now, it works just the same. 

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This task came together in a matter of about 10 minutes or so. It was easy to build and it will be a nice addition to our classroom curriculum. And not only that, but we have saved space in our local landfill by keeping 12 empty Play-Doh cans and a shoebox out of it. 

I would categorize this as a math task; however, we are also working with fine motor skills too. It is a chore for the students to remove and put the lids on the Play-Doh containers so they will have to work at it. I also use tasks like this for measuring what I call 'time on task.' That is, it's a long task that I want the student to work at for more than 5 minutes. 

So enjoy the task. Let me know about your use and variations on the task. I'm always happy to hear from readers. 

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I confess that I am not much of a math student, but that doesn't mean I do not try to be the best math teacher I can. In my multiple-disabilities, self-contained classroom, I am the students' sole source of match instruction. I take every opportunity I can to learn about math, math techniques, and ways to teach math that eschews worksheets. I work very hard for my students because they deserve my very best efforts. And math should not be boring.  

By that I mean I am always looking for new, creative, and interesting ways to teach math concepts. I recently attended a two-session math seminar hosted by our local State Support Team and featuring math professor Ky Leigh Davis from Muskingum University and learned about some fantastic tools that I can add to my toolbox. Ideas shared during that seminar inspired me to come up with my own ideas. This post is about one such idea. 

This quick math game I invented for my kids in order to learn either addition or multiplication. So depending upon which skill you want to teach, it serves both purposes. 

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What you see is two separate number grids. Both grids contain the numbers 1 through 9. We intentionally mixed the colors. It is not necessary to do so, and one can use more than two colors if you like. You could use the different colors to differentiate (notice all our lower numbers are one color and the higher numbers are a different color) or simply to make the game more interesting. 

Another important aspect is to make certain the numbers are mixed up on the board. It is probably unhelpful to put the numbers in order; although, it might not matter at all. It just depends upon your preference. 

After you have assembled the two boards, laminate them. This will preserve the boards for many uses (especially since the game will be played on the floor). You can make the boards as big as you like. Ours are about 18 inches square. We also used pre-manufactured numbers as opposed to trying to write or draw them in freehand. I think it makes the game more uniform and appealing–plus, the numbers are big for those who may have visual impairments. 

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After the boards are assembled, it is up to you how you will play. Again, it can be either addition or multiplication. (I suppose the game can also be used for division and subtraction, but the number boards will have to be adjusted accordingly.) Make a 'plus' (addition) sign and a multiplication sign to place in between the two boards in order to remind the students during the game what sort of math equations they will be working with. Or, as a way to vary the game: make a stack of cards that feature addition (+) and multiplication (x) signs. When a student comes up for their turn, they must choose a card. The sign on the card will determine if the student is to perform an addtion or a multiplication problem.

Now, originally, I thought about having the students throw darts at the boards in order to choose the two numbers they would add or multiply. Then I got to thinking…hmmm…Special Education…darts….nah; bad idea. So I opted for bean bags. The gist is this: the students toss the beanbags, the beanbags (or whatever you use) land on two numbers (one on each board) and the students either add them or multiply them together. (I actually got the idea from a game I played as a kid called 'Toss-Across'.)

Here's a fun variation: do both addition and multiplication. Let the student choose which calculation they wish to make and award points based on difficulty (if, in fact, you make it into a team based competition.)

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This is a simple task that you can use as a group or even for individual work. The kids are learning addition facts and/or multiplication facts while playing a game. The kicker is, they are having fun and learning math at the same time. These foundational facts are so important to the students' future ability to master higher order mathematics that really this is not just as task for special education students. This is a game that anyone can use or play in any classroom, at just about any level. 

Have fun. Be sure to let me know how you use it so that I can add to my own toolbox. 

PS–this is also a great way to help the children exert some gross motor skills, practice mental math, and learn about social cooperation during game play. That's what I love about building games like this: so much can be accomplished during the course of one game. Good luck.

I have a book called Tasks Galore and the task I will share in this post is, to be sure, a riff on a task found in that book. Credit where credit is due and all that. I have modified my taks and made it a little sturdier and, as always, I have used recycled materials to accomplish my task. 

The task is a simple sequencing or sorting task–it just depends upon what you want to accomplish with your students. It is flexible and can easily be modified to suit your needs. Here is a picture of the completed task.

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The materials you will need are as follows:

1. One shoebox

2. Three Countrytime Lemonade containers (minimum)

3. At least six empty film containers w/lids

4. Six plastic counting bears (or other manipulatives of your choice. I used six because that is the six basic colors available.)

5. A few brass fasteners; rubber cement; tape.

Step one is to wrap the plastic film canisters in colorful paper that matches the color of the manipulatives you have chosen. That's why I use the counting bears. There are six basic colors which makes choosing colors easy. 

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Next, you will want to secure the lids of the lemonade canisters to the lid of the shoebox. I turn the lids upside down and using the rubber cement to secure them to the shoebox. While they are securing, I punch a hole in the center and addd another layer of security by pushing a brass fastener through. Now, I push the brass fastener from the top of the shoebox so that the part that gets folded down is actually inside the lemonade lid. Note: only fasten two of the lids to the shoebox lid. The third lemonade lid will remain loose so it can be screwed back on top of the lemonade containter where you will store all of your manipulatives when the task is not in use. 

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In the above picture you can see the fasteners attached to the outside of the lid. At this point, your project should look like the picture below.

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The third step is to wrap the larger part of the lemonade container with a picture of a 'stop' sign. It's not terribly difficult. You can see the sample in the first picture. This will alert the students to the fact that 'this is where the task ends.' You can use different words besides 'stop'. 

That's about it as far as assembly is concerned. When it's all assembled, you can store all manipulatives and parts inside the shoebox. In the picture below you can see how everything fits nicely inside the shoebox for easy storage. (You can also see the brass fasteners. For an extra layer of protection, I cover the fasteners with tape.)

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The final step, then, is simply to open up the task and let the students get busy working. What I like about this task is that it is easily manipulated to form other sorting or sequencing tasks. Here is how the task is set up:

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 You can't see them very well, but in the third lid is the smaller lids for the film canisters. The task follows three steps:

1. Choose a colorful canister.

2. Choose a matching colorful bear.

3. Put the bear inside the film canister.

4. Put the smaller lid on the canister.

5. Place the canister inside the 'stop' container. 

It's a simple task that I use with my students who have autism or other developmental disabilities. And again, you can alter the task to suit your needs: create less steps; create more steps; change colors; etc. 

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This is a fun task for students and it also manages to find a way to recycle stuff that might otherwise end up in a local landfill. 

Thanks to Tasks Galore for the inspiration. Enjoy the task. If you use it and make modifications, please let me know what they are so I can incoporate them into my own version of the task. 

I am a special education teacher. I wouldn't have it any other way. I proudly love what I do. 

I recently began the initial steps of my Ohio Teacher Evaluation System procedures by sitting down with my principal and having my pre-observation interview. It was a lot of fun. 

Much of the interview was about the lesson my principal will be observing, but a good deal of it also revolved around my professional development, teaching style, and relationships with colleagues. I was also asked about my philosophy of education–which I interpret as, "What is your relationship with your students?" Here is what I had to say. 

I try to incorporate everything into my lessons. I think my age is one of my assets with my students. I am honest with them [my students] about what they have to face in life and how their education will aid them in future endeavors, and how a lack of it will hinder them. I encourage them to remember that they have something to contribute to this world. I encourage them to break the shackles of helplessness–which parents and otherwise well-meaning people impose upon them. I positively brow-beat [just a wee bit of hyperbole becaues I don't actually, literally brow-beat] them with the idea that they are responsible for themselves and their actions. I also remind them daily that they are loved and cared for. I try to be to them all the things that teachers and others have not been to me. 

In other words, I work very hard to love my students. I work very hard to make certain that they are achieving as much as they can daily. I do not wait for a principal to observe me. I do not wait for my students to take assessments. I do not wait for my yearly evaluation to be put into my hands. I don't wait for value-added data to be published. I take the responsibility of educating my students very seriously. Considering how much time I put in, maybe too seriously. 

What I do is go to my classroom everyday with the idea that I am never going to see my kiddos again and that I have a lot of work to do with them, for them, and on their behalf. I refuse to be lazy in my classroom; I refuse to produce lazy students. Furthermore, I refuse to allow my students to be lazy in my classroom. Just because a student has special needs or are differently-abled does not mean they are exempt from the rigors and challenges of this life. 

I do not want my students to find themselves at some point in life where they can not take care of themselves. In other words, I think about the what-ifs of life each day. I am especially honest with parents about this too. 

Special Education is not about hiding students in a closet and getting them through year to year with the least expenditure of energy possible. It's not, to be sure, even about getting them to pass Alternate Assessment or other tests the state and federal government impose upon them. (It's an obscene amount of pressure put upon students so that my job will be safe.) Special Education is, on the contrary, about helping the students to function in the real world as freely, as fluently, and as and as frequently as possible.

I despise people who take the path of least resistance when it comes to education, even more those who do that in special education. Our students deserve our 100% effort every single minute of the day. Am I really loving my students if I do nothing but perpetuate helplessness? If my students think I am lazy then what will think I expect of them? Or, how can I expect my students to put forth effort when the example I set for them is one of laziness and indifference? 

It may sound mean, but I give my students as little help as possible in the classroom. Sometimes they need my hands; sometimes my feet. But for the most part, the students need my encouragement to do for themselves. This is how I best love my kiddos.