Sunday, April 16, 2017

The Anatomy of My Classroom

I am currently working to complete my ESOL endorsement. This term I have to complete a Portfolio/Work Sample. The syllabus said that I would have to write an Autobiography: no details or guidelines. Just: an autobiography.
Being the type-A human being that I am: this was just NOT enough information. So I poured over example work samples and tried to get an idea of what the expectations were. And what I found was: we can be creative. What?!?!?! EUREKA! I have not written a post in quite some time. SO after I finished my rough draft Autobiography I figured, "Why not share it with the world?" Or rather, my mom. Since I think she is the only one who reads my blog.

Without further ado: my work sample autobiography:

Every classroom takes on the personality of the teacher who lives there. We put pieces of ourselves all over the room, so that when students arrive in the fall, they begin to know who we are. My classroom has blue and pink paper on the bulletin boards, fabric with brightly colored triangles and a decorative silver-framed chalkboard. You will see pink buckets filled with pencils, a long-legged ceramic bird holding books and Whole Body Listening Larry, showing you how we listen at school. Yoda is on the wall, explaining that the force and a growth mindset are one and the same. Don’t let Darth fool you. He’s up to no good.  In the corner, if you look closely, you’ll see an Ironman helmet; because sometimes teachers are superheroes too.
Has the day got you down? Tired or sick? Did someone hurt your feelings at recess? Or is writing just TOO MUCH right now? It’s okay! Chill out in the igloo. I hear you, buddy. Learning is hard. But we can do hard things.

I have put pieces of myself into this room. I have stapled and taped and written them on poster board. I have poured over dollar bins and placed them in a prize box. And early in the morning, in the dark of 7am, I have thought of these students and their little hearts and minds. This is a safe place for learning. A safe place for feeling. A safe place to be. This is a place where things are hard, but we are tough. This is a place where we can GROW!

Clipart from:

Sunday, February 26, 2017

A Year of Transitions

This past school year has been a very busy for me: thus, no posts. My husband and I made a big move and it will probably be our last re-location for a long time. There were a lot of factors that led to this.

Last year, my husband was working full-time and taking as many classes as he could. We would both get up at 6am and leave the house for our prospective schools. Then my husband would begin his workday: coming home at 11pm. Most days, we didn't see each other unless I visited Rick at work for his lunch. People would ask me how my husband was doing and I would say, "He sleeps next to me. So I know he's alive..."

If it was just the time apart, that would be one thing. I read the entire Outlander series, made TPT products and crafted like nobody's business. I was a regular at yoga. The time was well spent. But my husband was unhappy. He didn't have time to workout or take care of his body. He was working too hard for the little sleep he got and he was barely putting a dent in the credits he needed to get an associate's degree from the local community college.

Then there was my job... I had a hefty caseload, friends. And not enough support staff to meet the needs of all my students. And like so many Resource Room teachers, I was responsible for all incoming evaluations for students who had gone through the special education referral process. On top of that, I was always at our Case Study meetings. I was attending between 5 and 10 meetings per week, between Case Study and IEP meetings. It was too much for one human being. And the 12 hour days were too much. I was sad to leave my educational assistant: who deserves a place in the education hall of fame. Truly. But since my husband and I were both unhappy, it was time for a change. We don't have children yet. But if I'm slaving away at a job and never ever home, and neither is he: how is there time to make a baby, let alone raise one?

When I was looking for jobs this last spring, I had one thing in mind: It has to be manageable. My mom is an IEP specialist at the district I now work for. Since caseloads are so big (the same size as mine was) in the Resource Room, there are two IEP specialists that split up all the schools in the district and write all their IEPs. On top of that, I participate in the Case Study meetings for one day a mont. It is very clear who does what, I have a substitute and I am mostly there on a consultation basis. Then there is an evaluation team who handles all the evaluations in the district. So I focus on the students in my classroom. Bingo. I now leave work on time on a regular basis. Hallelujah!

In terms of my career change, I felt I was making a safe decision. I was moving to the same school district my mom had been happy with for many years. I also had friends from my teaching program who worked for the district. So I knew what I was getting into and that there would be people I could ask questions.

For my husband, it felt like a big leap of faith. Rick went from working full-time and taking one or two college classes a term, to being a full-time student. He had to accept the fact that he was going to make less money, if any, and that we were going to somehow make it work. We prayed a lot.

My husband has been working in hospitals as a phlebotomist for about 10 years. Luckily, my friend's sister runs an adult foster home that cares for clients with dementia. And my husband is an incredibly loving and kind human being; as evidenced by the fact that he puts up with me. So he is now working overnight, two nights a week and he is a full-time student. He loves his job, but Rick is facing the challenges that come with being a college student. And it's tough folks. I was always a natural born student: learning is my jam. My husband thought he was, until he was hit hard with tests and papers. So now, he's having to learn that student life, as a 30 year old man.

Overall, this year has been rewarding. I have learned a lot. Some things I learned as a result of being a more experienced teacher. Some things I have learned as a result of amazing professional development. Others, I have learned as a result of my constant desire to find balance.

For life hacks, I suggest reading Thinner, Leaner, Stronger, by Michael Matthews. I've been eating healthier, hiking (which, let's face it, is really just walking when I do it) and lifting weights 3 days a week. My husband is doing it with me, which makes our gym time a lot more fun.

Overall, life is busy. But it is also so good!

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Guide to Writing Instruction in the Resource Room

I teach in the Resource Room at a K-5 school. So here is my disclaimer: If you are looking for Letter Formation and Life Skills writing tips, this is not the post for you. But please DO read on and see if you find anything that will be useful for you!

My first year teaching, I found writing to be one of the hardest things to teach. If you are in the same boat, I strongly suggest you buy or borrow 6+1 Traits of Writing by Ruth Culham. The Complete Guide for Primary Grades is a must have if you are teaching in students between Kindergarten and 3rd grade. I also own the complete guide for grades 3 and up and I have used it regularly.

These are great resources, because Culham helps you look at your student's current level of performance and determine next steps. If I am stumped or want another tool, I regularly grab one of these books off the shelf and look at the trait I am working on.

My second year teaching, I led a grant project with a team of other Special Education teachers and an ELL teacher to build up our tools around writing instruction. We observed a lot of General Education classrooms and saw how they formatted their instruction using Writers' Workshop; a 10 to 15 minute mini-lesson, followed by writing time in which the teacher conferences with students either in small group or one-on-one for the remaining 30 minutes. This is a format that most writing curriculums encourage.

I don't know about you, but in my setting I do not generally have my students for 45 minutes at a time, so I can't recreate this. Nor am I able to allow my students to continue writing without instruction and still consider it "Specially Designed Instruction." You may have a fantastic scripted writing program in your building. If you do, great! Use it! Just make sure that it is teaching grammar and sentence structure and not just focussing on spelling. If the writing curriculum does not teach how to structure a paragraph or create an outline for longer pieces of writing, I strongly suggest you decide how you want to supplement that.
If you have younger students or lower level writers, a sentence may be their Everest and that's okay. You climb that mountain! I have found that a combination of Direct Instruction and Writers Workshop creates well balanced and successful writing instruction.

In my own classroom, writing instruction looks something like this on a daily basis:
1. Mini-lesson on Graphic Organizer or Writing Trait
2. Individual Task with feedback and teacher input.
3. Word Sorts working on Spelling and Phonics skills when students finish their writing task for the day.


1. Graphic Organizers!

Whether your students are trying to write a sentence, a short story or a 5 paragraph essay, these will come in handy! For your students working on writing at the sentence or paragraph level, consider this free graphic organizer. Some kids don't have the language they need to explain their ideas, either because of learning difficulties or because they are English Language Learners. Don't forget the impact of language on writing!! Have your students talk about their ideas before they write them down. Give them the words when they don't have them. 

If your students are writing more complex pieces, start by planning backwards and creating your own graphic organizer. Or borrow one from a primary grade teacher. My school uses Lucy Caulkins, which is a very demanding curriculum. My students often need a ton of scaffolding and support just to get started. So before their class is teaching a new unit, I pull out the go to graphic organizer I want those students to use. I help them complete it during our group time and I send them back to class ready to begin a rough draft. Whenever possible, I give them source material for research that is at their independent level or lower, so they can do research with confidence. 

2. Word Lists and Word Banks

Some schools and students have access to amazing assistive technology that allows the teacher to create a word bank their students use regularly or will need to use for a writing unit. I have been fortunate enough to be in a school with this kind of access for the last two years. 
Another low tech option that I have found is also quite effective is to have a word list at a student's desk: preferably one page with all their words in alphabetical order. I have used this word list and had students be very successful. If a student needs a word that's not on there, just write it on. The goal in using a word list is production. We want students to get their ideas out on paper independently. Once they are able to do that, the rest of their writing will improve as well. 

Also: A list of words on the wall is NOT the same thing as a personal word list at a student's desk. Struggling writers are usually struggling readers as well. Sit in the student's desk and look around the classroom. Imagine that everything on your posters is in a foreign language. Can you pick out the high frequency words in French? Neither can the student. A list at their desk is manageable and easy for them to access. Words on the wall are overwhelming and hard for them to pick out. 

3. Writing Trait Mini-Lessons

I analyze my students writing during our group times and take notes in my planner. That way, I know what to plan for the next day and what our focus should be. At this point, I have a TON of writing books and go to lessons for different skills. When I was first getting started, these Evan Moor Writing Books really helped me to target writing skills with confidence. I also love how easy they are to hand over to a teaching assistant. My teaching assistants have often told me they feel uncomfortable teaching writing without a scripted curriculum or very structured lessons. It's nice to hear it from them, so I don't feel quite so OCD when I give them such detailed lesson plans! These books have structured lessons that target the skills you need, while also giving students an opportunity to plan their writing using a Graphic Organizer (YAY!) and then actually create a piece of written work. 

4. Writing Binders/Folders

Each student in every writing group has a writing folder or binder (depending on the group and availability of binders, lol). In their binder they have two tabs: Writing and Spelling. Writing contains their graphic organizers, rough drafts and most current piece of writing. Spelling contains spelling practice for if they finish the days lesson ahead of their peers. Students will always finish writing at different paces. So I have additional work for them to do that targets their IEP goals and is built into our classroom procedures. It's a win-win! Their spelling and sentence structure get better. I have a classroom that runs smoothly so I can meet with each student during group and conference on what I am seeing. 

I hope this post was helpful. Feel free to comment if you have questions about resources or ideas for Writing Instruction!

Clipart in this post came from: 
2 Super Teachers

Saturday, January 23, 2016

My Love Affair with Dentistry

When I was 14, I was in my 4th year of orthodontia and my first year of Water Polo. Mishaps ensued.

I am pretty sure that my front tooth was murdered as a result of extreme front tooth movement, combined with blunt force trauma to the face. It was really bound to happen at some point, since at that point in my life my passions included (in this order): Straightening out the God awful mess that was my teeth, Acne cream and Contact Sports. Oooooh to be young again! I would share a picture of me during this time in my life, if only so you could share in a laugh, but they are all at my parents house. Who'd want that in their OWN house? C'mon!

Long story short, my original pearly white was replaced by a fake pearly white. When I played Water Polo at Oregon State University, my crown (Toothy, as I lovingly referred to it) was a common injury amongst young women with my particular skill set: Kicking-ace and jotting down contact information.
2 out of 5 girls in this picture suffer from FFT (Fake Front Tooth). Bet you can't guess who! The sign of a good dentist. 
**Please note, in 2009 everyone had a flip phone. Flip phones were in.**

This past month or so, I my husband pointed out to me that there was a crack in my crown. When I went to the dentist he said that no, he could not just "spackle it over, or something." I figured it was worth asking... If you can do it to a wall to get your deposit back on an apartment, it seemed natural enough to me! So at 29, it was time that I part ways with the 2nd adult front tooth I'd ever had. 

Yeah, I know it's ridiculous to be sentimental about ones front tooth. I have met normal people before... But I am a girl that wears her retainers to bed every night. They are red and sparkly, like Dorothy's shoes! The orthodontist did not think it was hilarious when I was getting them made, but I've met few orthodontists that see me as more than the my parents' excellent dental care plan. 

In 4th grade, I found out that I had impacted canines. My lower set of adult canines were growing together.... in my jaw.... like Heathcliff and Katherine... trying to come together and ruining everything in their path. So at the end of 4th grade, I had my first oral surgery. The oral surgeon tried to find an example case he had worked on to share with me... he could not find a SINGLE CASE that was as bad as mine in his fancy photo book of doomed canines. 

From there, it was brackets and wires and yanking, oh my!! I would go for months at a time without eating solid food. I literally gave up gum for 2 years, no questions asked, because chewing was such a beez. Not only did I have a set of bottom chompers that were the marvel of every orthodontist I visited (3) and oral surgeons (1), I had a gap in my front teeth that was a thing of beauty. It took 4 years of agony to correct this nightmare. And then what did I do???? I decided it was time to take up the face smackingest sport I could thing of!

So after I had a new front tooth, did I wear a mouth guard? Or take it easy? NOPE!!! But every single time I got hit in the face, I ran my tongue through my mouth to make sure that everyone was accounted for. And they always were!! 

So, to conclude, there is no moral to this story or heart-warming ending. Just the knowledge that I have earned my beautiful smile with years of heart ache and pain; and the deep DEEP hope that my children inherit my husbands teeth: Perfectly straight and not a brace in sight. 

Sunday, January 17, 2016

4 Ways to Reinforce Reading Interventions in the Classroom

Many students attend Reading Interventions in a small group setting: whether it's a Title 1 Reading Intervention or Special Education Intervention. I cannot stress how important it is that what's being taught in a reading intervention group be reviewed and reinforced in the general education classroom. 

I know that classroom teachers have so much on their plates and the list of things they have to do seems to get longer everyday. BUT there are a few ways to make reviewing intervention materials quick and (relatively) painless!

1. Folders that go back and forth between the General Education Classroom and Intervention Groups. 

In my school, the Reading Specialist and I send blue folders back and forth between outr group and the classroom teacher. There is a pocket in the front. When students have had a chance to review materials in the classroom, the teacher changes the card from red to green. After group, we change it back to red. 
Since I teach a lot of groups using Reading Mastery and Corrective Reading, I am able to put the finished workbook page in the folder. Each page has the words or stories we've read. As students get higher in Reading Mastery K, I make copies of the Decodable Books and put those in each folder. I also use put Reading Mastery Seatwork sheets in the folder for EVEN MORE practice when students have a hard time participating in Core Reading. 

2. Review Templates

A one-page, or half-page review sheet of words, sounds and phonics skills is a great way for classroom teachers to reinforce skills taught in intervention groups, easily and efficiently. I use these Reading Mastery K: Review Templates for my Reading Mastery groups. It is a lot of work to create on the front end, but then you have those templates for years to come. There will be another group next year that is in that same Reading Curriculum. So having a Review Template ready to go will make re-teaching intervention group material that much easier!

3. Buddy Reading

During CAFE Daily 5, students can read intervention materials with a buddy. It works even better if you have more than one student in the same intervention group in a classroom. Students in the same intervention group can "read to a partner," with their review materials. I know a great teacher that even pulls those kids together and reinforces Intervention skills during their small group time. She even goes so far as to pull spelling exercises and word sorts of her own, working on the same sounds as a part of their writing group. 

4. Word Sorts and Games

If you already have Review Templates, this is really easy to do. You can make a memory game, with 2 copies of a template. You can have students sort words from their word lists by phonics skills or letter sounds. (You could also use the Words Their Way sort that corresponds to that sound or pattern). 

A few years ago a Reading Specialist introduced me to the game OOPS! And now it's my favorite word review game. To make OOPS! follow these steps: 
Cut up template and make into a card deck. (Or use popsicle sticks in a cup. I use that most often.) Put in several cards that say OOPS!
Students pull words and sounds out of the deck. They have to read the word correctly to keep the card.
If someone gets OOPS! They have to put all their cards back in the deck.
Students can play until someone gets a certain number of cards, or for a set number of turns. Whoever has the most cards wins.

Games and sorts may sound like a ton of work, but keep in mind that if you make them one year, you can always use them the next year. Chances are that you will have students in that same intervention curriculum next year. 

The Number One Rule of Review Is: Keep it Short!

When we review/re-teach a skill, we are looking at 10 minutes of good quality review. This is a second dose, not the initial introduction to the skill. The reason for this is simple: many students struggle with memory issues. Particularly if they have a Learning Disability. In order to move a new skill over into Long-term Memory, we need to make sure that students see it more than once in a day. A solid dose during intervention, plus additional exposure in the classroom. It's even more fantastic if skills taught during intervention are imbedded in other skills taught in the General Education classroom: Like spelling sorts and small group reading focus. That way students see the same skill repeatedly through out the day, but not in isolation or just in reading group. That helps students to generalize what they are learning in group to what is happening in the classroom.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

10 Minute DIY Sugar Scrub

I don't know about you, but in my house a sugar scrub is a must have. You only need 3 ingredients and 10 minutes to make an easy and refreshing sugar scrub.

Coconut Oil
Sugar of your choice: Refined White, Brown Sugar or Raw Sugar
Essential Oil you want the smell or benefits from.

I used Refined White Sugar and a few tablespoons of Raw Sugar, because that was what I had available. My mother-in-law gave me NOW's Cheer Up Buttercup essential oil blend. I used it to make my scrub and afterwards it smelled like a cookie. I think it will be refreshing and delicious ;)
My favorite essential oil combination for scrub is peppermint and lavender. It's supposed to be good to relieve stress but also wake you up. Peppermint and Lavender are also good for allergies. Peppermint helps on days when you are congested.

Step 1: 
Heat up Coconut Oil
I started with 1/4 cup of coconut oil and microwaved it for 30 seconds. I didn't want to melt it, just to soften it so that it would mix up a little easier at first.

Step 2: 
Add sugar and essential oil.
I start with 2 tablespoons raw, 3 tablespoons white sugar and 15 drops of essential oil. I mix that until thoroughly blended. Then I continue to add white sugar until I get the right texture. I know I am done when I grab a little bit of scrub and it feels like wet sand. I personally like a little bit of raw sugar to add a thicker grain and color to the scrub; but not too much. 

Step 3: 
Scoop into a container. 
I use a a rubber spatula so that I can get ALL of the scrub into the container. I put this scrub into an old Yum sauce jar. I used lemon essential oil to get the original label off. Just use a few drops and then it rubs right off! 

ET VOILA!! The finished product! Perfect for dry winter skin!!

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Homemade Lotion: To Give and To Use!!

This Christmas, I really focussed on making homemade gifts for the people that I love. I wanted to make them all thoughtful presents. Even though my gifts are home-mated, I didn't want them to be junky. So I have been experimenting with making my own lotion. So far I have tried 3 recipes.

So the FIRST lotion I made came from Wellness Mamma and it's very easy. I used Rose Essential oil: not therapeutic grade. I just wanted a Rose smell and wasn't too concerned with the therapeutic properties during my first fore into lotion making. So I used the "Essential Oil" they sell at Michael's in the soap isle. That's also where I got an ENORMOUS brick of beeswax. Once I got the beeswax home, I realized it would be impossible to cut into the wax to measure it out for the recipe. So my husband suggested heating up an old steak knife on our stovetop (we have a gas stove) and then cutting into the beeswax. Eureka! I would suggest putting down a cutting board though since the wax will probably melt and get on your counters, etc. But it flakes off of a wood cutting board very easily.

The recipe made a VERY THICK lotion. A little goes a long way. I would suggest letting it soak in a bit before getting dressed, since it can be a little oily for a minute or so. A lot of other recipes said to whip lotion with a hand mixer as it cools, because it changes the texture. I think if I use this recipe again, I might add that step. Just let it cool until it becomes opaque and then whip it.

This lotion has only two ingredients and is INCREDIBLY easy. You just need raw cocoa butter, coconut oil and then you add essential oils. When I was whipping the Cocoa Butter and the Coconut Oil it smelled delicious. I was so curious so of course I tasted it. It's not delicious....
I have been using it all week now and I love it beyond words. It's super moisturizing. I doubled the recipe to make multiple jars to give as gifts. In a double-batch I used 30 drops of therapeutic grade lavender from Doterra. The lotions smells only slightly like lavender, but it is still very pleasant. I didn't use any added colors, because I like the plain white color.

3. Organic Authority Anti Aging Face Cream
This lotion was fun and easy to make. I was surprised at how stiff and thick the lotion is. Granted, it's been 20 degrees where I live for the last month though. So it may be more lotiony at warmer temperatures. It says essential oils are optional. I used Lavender and Lemon from Doterra and Frankincense from NOW. I have to warm the lotion up in my hands before I put it on, but it is thick and moisturizing all day long.  I've been using it for a few days now and I like that it locks in the moisture without being too greasy.

As you can see in my photos, I got a label maker for Christmas. SO EXCITED!! I love putting cute labels and tags on things!