FOUR WEEK SCHOOL REFLECTION

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Wow it is unbelievable that the 1st Quarter Progress notes are being passed out to students on Monday!  Inspite of what has been happening with me at home, school has gone on and my students continue to show up expecting to be taught.

I just want to brag about my three 7th grade English Language Arts classes to the world!!! They are a mixed variety of abilities, maturity and behaviors, but they are all getting along (mostly), engaged in learning and a general pleasure to be around.
I know that it has only been four weeks of school, but this has the potential to be one of, if not the best bunch of students that I have ever had the privilege of teaching.  They have already done more than I would have thought possible and have done it with a great attitude (or as great as 12 & 13 year olds can have).
The daily routine is becoming, well more routine.  The students know what to expect and approximately when to expect it.  They understand the classroom expectations and seem to have adapted well to them.  I think that the check-in time is helping them know what is going on around school, in class and I just started this week to have everyone give a quick thumbs-up/down on how their day is going.  This gives me a quick idea of who is having a good or bad day (the students have been very honest about that), which allows me to focus on those having a bad day a little more or let them have a little extra space to get themselves together, whichever they need more.
One thing that I have noticed is that no student has had to use the Safe Haven area in my classroom yet this year (last year it was used almost daily after I established it).  I believe that they like the idea that it is available to them if they need the time or space, but have not had the need in class yet and they haven’t abused its purpose (being a safety valve).  Even when I suggested to a couple of students to use it, they chose not to and participated in the classroom activities.
The student engagement and positive behaviors with my 7th graders has been exceptional in all classes, sure they like to fool around, goof off and do silly things but the things they are doing are age appropriate and when they occur have been easily redirected to more positive behaviors.  I believe that the students do enjoy using FreeRice.com to warm-up and work on their vocabulary/grammar a bit (I just have to see how it translates over to their actual work now), most have significantly increased the amounts they are earning since the first week.  I do have to find other alternatives, so that it does not get “old hat” and boring to the students.
I am really impressed with how well the Silent Sustained Reading (SSR) is going.  Most of the students are actually reading, based on the quality of the daily reading log entries.  We increased the amount of time from 10 to 12 minutes this week and I plan to increase it to 15 minutes next week and believe that that will be about it for a while.  Getting many of these students to sit still and read for this amount of time without complaining too much or while playing a video game, is something I am very proud of them doing.
I think that letting them use headphones to listen to music while reading if they want to and having the countdown timer to let them know how much time is left helps a lot also, they don’t seem to feel as overwhelmed with how long they have to read – there is a definite end in sight. I do have a couple of students who may be picture surfing more than reading and I plan to work with them on that this week.
On Monday we learned how to upload a document created in Pages or Open Office to Google Docs using the Paper Airplane reflections as the student’s source document. There were a lot of glitches with Google Docs properly uploading these documents even after re-saving them into a .doc format, so that is something that I will have to look closer at to ensure that we can do it quickly and easily in the classroom.  All the students are using Google Docs and seem to really like it.
I know that I love gDocs and can’t imagine not being able to use it in the classroom it is such an asset to our class.  I don’t like that Google took away the ability to use it in an offline mode, because when we lost the internet for an hour a couple of weeks ago, I couldn’t use it and had to use a Desktop based word processor instead, which was a pain when the upload didn’t work easily.  Plus a few of my students don’t have internet at home and have to go through the upload pain in the butt routine to get their documents to gDcos.
Starting on Tuesday we started reading the book Among the Hidden by Margaret Peterson Haddix which is part of the 7th Grade General Curriculum.  I introduced the book and we discussed what it would be like to a third child when only two children were allowed by the law.  I am using the book as a Read-aloud and discuss as we go to help develop reading fluency and comprehension skills.  We got through Ch-3 on Thursday and did a daily log on each chapter of the book after reading it.  We used a single shared document in Google Docs for all students to write their log entry, while it is projected on the screen.  That way everyone is seeing what and how much the other students are writing instead of only the teacher and we are going back and publicly editing the entries (while editing one student’s I am seeing other students correcting similar mistakes before we get to them).  Comparing Ch-3 entries to Ch-1 I can see a definite improvement in their work and the amount they are writing – from my point of view it seems as though the students are taking more time/pride in their work now that everyone is seeing what they are writing.  Next week will be learning how to make an electronic poster using a slide show (gDocs or Keynote) – sorry not ready for Glogster or other ones yet with everything that has been going on.
On Friday I was only in for 1/2 of the day due to a medical appointment, but when I got in the Substitute teacher gave me nothing but great feedback on my Blocks 1 and 2 behaviors and work ethic.  I was very proud of my kids, because last year, my classes didn’t get those kind of reviews from the substitutes and I actually had subs that refused to work with those classes.  So this is a complete 180 from last year and I love being able to feel that I can go to a training or medical appointment without my student’s behaviors becoming completely negative for a sub.
During block 3 we did the weekly reading assessment with a small twist, I modified the NECAP test instructions to fit my weekly reading assessment.  I did this to get students used to the pace and expectations of those Standardized Tests.  It caused some significant anxiety for a couple of students initially because they cannot receive any assistance on reading of the text, questions or answers, they have to do it without any assistance at all, but they acclimated to it and I believe/hope it will make the NECAP testing less surprising or stressful for them when we start on October 4th.  We will do the weekly reading assessment again next Friday for all the blocks using the modified NECAP instructions to help prepare them for the assessment.
As I said the first quarter Progress Notes will be passed out Monday and everyone passed easily.  I am very impressed with my students work ethic, mostly positive behaviors, but most of all their willingness to let me help them learn.
Yes I am bragging about my three classes and the students I have in them, they are a great bunch of kids and I am really looking forward to working with them the rest of this year.  Now that it seems as though my family medical issues have reached a tolerable level, hopefully I will be able to devote more positive energy to my classes.
This could be a great year!

WHO INFLUENCES SPECIAL EDUCATORS?

I have been thinking for quite a while about who actually influences how successful Special Education Teachers will be during a school year and finished putting together the following chart this afternoon in attempt to help me visualize those influences.

I had lines and arrows going this way and that, added/subtracted, changed around the locations or designs of the various influences in a Special Educator’s life without liking any of the results.  While spending several hours creating the above chart, I came to the conclusion that of all the influences on this colorful chart, the one in purple is the most important and is the one that we need to focus on.

“US”

The influences in this chart may give us a reason for being there, feedback on how they think we are doing our job, direction, laws, recommendations or even conflicting information, but the person in the mirror is the major influence on whether you will be successful or not this year.  We know whether or not we are doing the best job that we can, in the school environment we are presently teaching in.  Everyone of us has a different situations, limitations, strengths and weaknesses that we bring with us when we walk through those school doors.

It is how we use our personal abilities to make the best of the situation we find ourselves in, that will determine whether or not we are successful in the classroom this year.

How we use our:

  • imagination to teach those students who would prefer to be elsewhere – especially in Special Education where so many of our students do not have a history of being successful in school.
  • courage to stand up to wrongs we see going on around us
  • adaptability to acknowledge change can be a necessary and good thing
  • intelligence to interpret laws and regulation to cause the greatest benefit for our students
  • wisdom to ensure the least harm from laws and regulations that negatively affect our students
  • enthusiasm for what you are teaching even when you want to be else where
  • willingness to learn new ideas, technology, pedagogy and use them in class
  • persistence to keep going even when you don’t want to
  • abilities and experience to know the difference between right and wrong
  • flexibility to be able to change what we are doing to meet the needs of our students
  • ability to simply suck-it-up and get what needs to be done, no matter how much a pain in the butt it is sometimes or if we agree with it or not sometimes.
  • positive attitude to put things in as good a light as possible and see the silver lining in a situation, even when it is really, really tough to find one
  • knowing which battles to fight and which ones to let go (this is the toughest one sometimes) – falling on your sword all the time is only going to hurt a lot

There are many more things that we Special Educators can do and should do, but they are dependent upon the individual’s situation and where they teach.  The person in the mirror knows them and knows whether or not you are doing them or not.

It is almost always easier to blame other influences for our own shortcoming and make excuses for why we “can’t” or why we “do” something instead of taking ownership and personal responsibility for what we do or don’t do.  Question yourself: “Are you doing what you are doing for the right reason or are you simply going through the motions”?  Sometimes we have to take the time to challenge ourselves and how we view things and others to know if what we are doing is the right thing or not.

Sure some situations we are in suck (really, really badly), but instead of whining about them and bringing people around us down too, what are we doing to make them better than they are?  Can we?  If not than maybe it is time to move on as soon as we can.  It is often better to move on to a new situation than it is to remain in one that is eating you up, no matter how familiar it is to you or the seniority you might loose.

To put it very bluntly the person in the mirror determines how successful and happy you will be this year and in the future – no one else or other influences.   That person is the only one that we have control over.

“Do the right thing for the right reason”

WEEK IN REVIEW – SEPTEMBER 25, 2010

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Over the course of the past 3 weeks I haven’t had the motivation or energy it takes to blog, as I explained in yesterday’s post about Family Comes First, someone in my family had a bunch of serious medical tests  to do during that time.  Now that we have the results and they are mostly positive, hopefully I can get back to a more normal life and not worry so much about their health.

Below are my top 5 posts for the week:

1.  GOOGLE DOCS TEMPLATES
2.  FAMILY COMES FIRST
3.  PAPER AIRPLANE LESSON PLAN 2010
4.   WAS OVER-AMBITIOUS
5.  TEACHING TO THE BELL CURVE

Thank you to everyone who has continued to visit this blog site even though there hasn’t been a lot of new material written lately.

“Do the right thing for the right reason”