* Developing Leadership, part 2

In an earlier post, I described the benefits of using science and social studies content to develop leadership in our twice exceptional and high-functioning autistic students.  If your child/student has special interests in science, let me refer you to The Happy Scientist website. happy scientist 2

Robert Krampf is the brains behind this wonderful site.  He’s a smart, funny, and down-to-earth teacher who uses videos and photographs for sharing science in a range of topics: life science, earth science, physical science, chemical science, space science, and the process of science.  With over 200 videos and about a 1,000 photographs (accompanied by puzzlers), this site is very user-friendly for our kiddos who learn by watching and doing.  Krampf is a good role model for our budding science leaders.happy scientist 3

The Happy Scientist keeps a blog, along with opportunities for questions on everything posted- and more.  His videos often end with bloopers, which are hilarious.  Yes, his site has standards and units of study, but I see this as an opportunity to model what we hope our kids can do as “mentors” in their small groups.  For example, the videos provide opportunities for kids to learn a clever way of presenting topics.  One video asks students to think of ways to reduce the speed of a ping pong ball in motion.  Our student presenter can model some strategies and then let the group try their hand at it.

Another idea for developing leadership abilities is the creation of a digital portfolio of experiments.  If the student is uncomfortable with live presentations, what about making use of recorded ones?  In this era of technology, kids could share their expertise with classrooms, scout meetings, or science clubs quite easily.  Even if the videos are strictly for home use, they will certainly be confidence boosters.  For those kids who MUST be perfect, Krampf’s video outtakes illustrate the fun of errors.  Many of our autistic kids are quite adept at drama and might want to add the flair of “space suits” or other props, just as Krampf does.  Some kids would also enjoy an online dialog with The Happy Scientist’s website.

Bottom line:  We must be proactive, pushing back the negative feedback these kids have often suffered at school.  Take advantage of your child’s strengths/interests while helping them SEE how smart and capable they are.

* Great tip on responding to bullying

This evening, I had the bittersweet privilege of seeing a parent empower her son.  Why bittersweet?  Because her son, Tony, is being verbally bullied.  He’s a funny and bright kid who has attracted the attention of a tormenting classmate.  Why is Tony being bullied?  He needs classroom modifications that draw some attention to his weaknesses.  Tony is a twice exceptional student, anxious about his reading and writing disabilities.  He also has speech difficulties, which appear to be the focus of the bullying.  He’s the perfect target for someone who also feels insecure (not a native English speaker) but who acts out those feelings by victimizing others.

Tony and I reviewed how he’s been responding to this bullying.  He has tried the “broken record” approach unsuccessfully (repeating the same response).  The tormentor is not willing to engage in any playfulness or respond to humor.  Tony suggested that the tormentor is bullying him to get attention, so Tony really wants to ignore him.  I wondered out loud if Tony was successfully ignoring this guy and he assured me that he was.  I asked him to describe how the taunting occurs.  Here’s the most typical scenario:  This guy asks to get up for some tissue, takes the long route past Tony’s desk, and taunts him about his “accent,” smiling all the while.  Then he blows into the tissue, tosses it in the trash, and makes his way past Tony again, with even more taunting and grinning.

OK, it’s obvious that Tony is watching this guy’s every move.  Tony is on red alert, waiting for the inevitable.  I took the role of the tormentor and helped Tony see how he was responding in a way that pleases this guy.  By this time, I have signaled Tony’s mom and she is processing the scene with us.  It’s obvious that Tony has no idea how to ignore such a challenge to his safety.

Here’s the tip Tony’s mom gave him: Think about what you would like to tell this kid, but spell it on the roof of your mouth with your tongue.  Once Tony got the gist of using his tongue to trace out letters, he was in another zone altogether.  He “rejoined” us after he had spelled out a directive for that guy to leave him alone.  Tony’s face lit up as he realized that he could tune out his surroundings while concentrating on spelling.  This is an especially effective technique since Tony struggles with spelling. And perhaps his control over the muscles of his mouth will also improve as he silently spells!

There are a number of other ways to resolve this issue, including talking to the classroom teacher, but current circumstances make that a difficult choice.  I’ll keep you posted on the results of this strategy.  We’re feeling confident!

* Developing leadership

As mentioned in a previous post, special needs kids often excel in areas such as science and social studies.  I do remember when those were the very subjects my students would miss in order to receive a double dose of reading and math or to attend a social skills group.  Also, science and social studies may be textbook-boring, instead of the hands-on, energized subjects we might hope for.  Putting those two dilemmas aside, science and social studies can provide terrific opportunities for leadership training with our twice exceptional and high-functioning autistic kids.

There are a number of ways to take advantage of these kids’ interests and skills in science and/or social studies.  Here’s the shortened version: assign special needs kids as “teaching assistants” or “mentors” to small groups rotating through centers in a regular classroom.  You’ll need a willing classroom teacher, schedule congruities, and a heads-up on science/social studies topics.  With rehearsal in a social skills or other small group (even reading, writing, or math), you’ll provide rubric-based practice for your leaders-in-training.  Depending upon your student’s maturity and skill levels, you could assign them to work with younger or same age peers.  Here are some other important steps:

  1. Make sure your kids have opportunities to develop familiarity with that classroom teacher and room (visit during lunch or before school).
  2. Provide your student with the center topic, materials, and expectations (preferably assisted by the classroom teacher/assistant and reinforced by special ed teacher and perhaps parents).
  3. Have an adult nearby for at least the first rotation of students; a classroom or special ed assistant (prepared to use the same rubric as the student) would be perfect.
  4. Review the adult’s rubric and comments after the first center activities are complete.  I set up a Wikispace for assistants to provide me immediate feedback.
  5. Plan on meeting with your student as soon as possible after their first session to elicit feedback and review the rubric.

This process is a bit labor-intensive on the front end, but soon settles into a routine.  Voilà!  Your special needs student becomes the resident expert, other kids now look up to him, and his confidence and skills have received a huge boost.  The following rubric is a sample for this process and would need to be individualized for each student.  The student’s “title” should reflect their role and aspirations.  Their goal (number of stars) should also be defined and gradually increase over time.science mentor rubric

* Integrating content areas into reading, social skills, and math

atomglobe.jpgOK, here’s my bias.  Reading, writing, and math are core subjects to me, as are social skills and classroom behavior.  At least one of these five subjects lies at the heart of needed remediation for special needs kids. I believe reading and social skills are primary.  They both allow access to the realms of the typical learners who may never give a second (negative) thought to their abilities.  Lack of these two fundamental skills can lead to all manner of distress, anxiety, relational conflicts, and isolation.  Social skills and behavior are cousins, so the same consequences apply.  Math and writing follow closely behind as factors determining academic success and basic life skill acquisition.

The good news?  Science and social studies are often areas of interest for kids with the above weaknesses, the kids with autism, dyslexia or dyscalculia, and those labeled twice exceptional.  These content areas provide a footing upon which to build reading skills and a toolkit for incorporating social skills and behavior instruction through science/social studies investigations with peers.

The bad news?  With the pressure to improve test scores, teachers may devalue those benefits of instruction in science and social studies, unless kids are also tested in science, which occurs in grades 5 and 8 in North Carolina.  With time constraints, elementary teachers may shortcut the experiential and authentic aspects of content area instruction.  Worksheets and memorization of facts may become an expedient alternative for authentic exploration.  Special ed teachers are often under similar pressure to produce higher rates of achievement; this can happen in a relative “vacuum” if teachers aren’t careful.

The solution?  Incorporate science and social studies into reading, social skills, math, and writing instruction.  Take advantage of the special interests of kids described above.  Many of them are awesome problem solvers, with creativity and the ability to “think outside the box.”  Allow special needs kids to be leaders in investigations, with support as needed.  Provide opportunities for these kids to learn in small groups with clearly assigned roles.  The research to support this approach is there.  The effective models are there.  Hopefully this section of my blog will support teachers as they integrate content areas into the instruction of special learners.

Survival Tip #16: Saved by superheroes

It’s a sad new reality of the world of education: lock downs.  After tragic shootings ripped away a sense of security in schools, teachers and their students now routinely practice procedures for evacuations (bomb threats) and lock downs (intruders).  Teachers in North Carolina watch a fictional but unnerving film of a gun-toting intruder and learn the protocols for keeping all kids safe in the event of such a calamity.

As a resource teacher, I fervently hoped the lock down drills occurred when I was sick or visiting another country.  I was amazed at the number of drills which coincided with my largest and neediest groups.  I wondered if they used my schedule as a litmus test: If that group can survive a lock down drill, we will all be fine.

It came as no surprise when a drill was announced in the midst of a seven member small group.  In order to be out of sight, the kiddos had to be squeezed into my walk-in closet.  I’ve mentioned this closet before.  It had a row of filing cabinets and ceiling-high metal shelving bolted to each wall.  Every inch was packed with teaching supplies, which also managed to take up most of the floor space.  Once you “climbed” into the closet, there was virtually no room to turn around.  Since I knew a lock down drill was imminent, I had already shoved stuff aside so there was more floor space.  But seven kids and me?  Yikes.

Not only was the closet ill-fitted for all of us, my kids were even less suited to be squished on top of one another.  It was a lively combination of first graders with autism, behavior disorders, and learning disabilities.  Everyone had social weaknesses and attention problems.  Now imagine this scenario: I lock the classroom door, turn off the classroom lights, and shepherd this motley crew into that closet and turn off that light.  It felt like being locked in a tiny cave.

For a few moments, the kids were actually silent, which is a requirement of the drill.  Don’t let anyone know you are hiding in the closet, right?  But it wasn’t long before voices were hissing, “Get off me!” and “He poked me!”  I reminded them to be silent and listened hopefully for a jiggling of the classroom door, which meant the police or administrator were ensuring that everyone was safely locked away.

Only a couple of students knew what a lock down drill actually represented.  Like those precocious kids who know Santa Claus is imaginary, these two were intent upon delivering the others from any misconceptions about this drill.  “We’re going to be shot!” one of them announced.  The other affirmed that statement, which sent Martin, my lowest functioning kid, into overdrive.

As Martin started to babble and wail, I decided that we needed some light.  I had positioned a flashlight in the closet for such an emergency.  I was able to shift kids around more effectively, but the light also created an eerie sense of being at the bottom of a deep pit filled with odd shapes and shadows.  More kids started to panic.  I grabbed a book from a stack which I had also positioned for such dire straits.  “I’m going to read a story VERY QUIETLY,” I said.  “And we should be out of here soon.”

I began reading.  Martin immediately interrupted me.  “We need Batman,” he declared.  The rest of the group laughed and I gave them a frantic signal to be quiet.  Although Martin was personally offended by his classmates’ reaction, he offered an alternative: “Spider-Man can save us!  He will zap the bad guys with his web and we’ll be safe.”  No one laughed this time as they all considered this solution.  Martin continued to describe the amazing ways in which his superhero could keep us safe.  By now, the others were nodding their agreement.  I just hoped no one could hear him talking.

I watched the group discuss the pros and cons of webs, handcuffs, and laser swords.  I also kept listening for some sound of movement outside the classroom, but all was quiet.  A five-minute drill lasted over 20 minutes due to some kind of glitch.  By the time the principal’s voice sounded an “all clear” over the intercom, my group was calm and unanimous:  Spider-Man had kept us safe.  Whew.

* Mytwosentences 94

Blogs like this wonderful site, “My Two Sentences,” can offer teachers an opportunity to amaze reluctant /struggling 2e writers and also encourage them.  Kids can “paint” their own sentences by adding colorful words (varied parts of speech).  A five word sentence can be transformed into 20 words with a knowledge of parts of speech.  These sentences may not be as rich in language and imagination as those of My Two Sentences, but who knows what gifts lurk in the hands of our twice exceptional writers?



With tears pouring out of their eyes, three restless children huddle together on the living room sofa while blurrily witnessing an inevitable fruition.
Leaving a thickset trail of lifeless brown needles, the center of merriment was mercilessly dragged across the kitchen floor and deposited on a sunless sidewalk.
(Photo: Edward Roads )

Written by Edward Roads

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* Math-Aids worksheets

Math-Aids: Dynamically Created Math Worksheets is a FREE website for generating worksheets covering 43 math topics, with recently added sections featuring worksheets for Pre-Algebra, Algebra 1, and Geometry.  I’ve enjoyed this site for years due to its wide range of generators and the ease with which worksheets can be created. I stumbled across Math-Aids.com when searching for mixed operation materials; many textbook publishers produce all addition or subtraction worksheets, but I wanted kids to practice strategies for improving recognition of changing operations.

Math-Aids has a number of user-friendly features:

  • It’s free!
  • There are multiple variations of worksheets under each math topic.  Under “Kindergarten,” for example, there are 23 unique types of worksheets.
  • The worksheets are simple to create, with clear directions.
  • Once you create the parameters of your sheet, simply click on the “go back” button to create endless versions with those parameters.
  • Worksheets can be printed in NINE languages.  This site has been visited by folks from over 190 countries.
  • The default setting creates an answer sheet, but that feature can be easily cleared.
  • All worksheets are available as pdf files for printing and saving.
  • An image of every type of worksheet is available.  Simply click and you are there!Mathaids 2

Three of my favorite sections are “Graph Paper,” “Number Lines,” and “Hundreds Chart.” There are 16 different options under Graph Paper, including notebook paper and a dot matrix sheet.  Number Lines includes 7 types of worksheets, such as adding and subtracting by using number lines or placing decimals and mixed numbers on number lines.  Hundreds Chart has some really fun activities ranging from puzzle pieces of hundreds charts to picture and letter puzzles.  There are also basic and rounding hundreds charts in gray-scale and color.

Although the site is definitely devoted to math, a section on word games has now been added.  Since the site is always expanding, I wonder if the site will eventually have a new name.

The only downside to Math-Aids is the number of ads on each page, but I understand that the developers would want to earn something for creating a website like this.  (I sure would!)  The problem is easily solved by paying less than 5 1/2 cents a day.  A good deal, I would say.   You do the math!

* Jerry Johns Basic Reading Inventory

Jerry JohnsJerry Johns’ Basic Reading Inventory is an individually administered reading inventory.  I first started using this inventory years ago and have been very pleased with its accuracy and support in both identifying approximate reading levels by grade and determining a wide range of student strengths and weaknesses.  This eleventh edition is a winner; Johns keeps improving with age!

Winning features from this edition:

  • A CD with videos of partial administration of the inventory, all the performance booklets and student summary forms, all the reading booklets, and answer sheets for student practice exercise, and an extensive bibliography on research related to informal reading inventories
  • One comprehensive volume (pictured above) that includes guides to using this manual, every reading inventory, an impresive selection of early literacy assessments, and summary sheets of student performance
  • An increased number of passages at each grade level (through 12th grade) so that this inventory can be easily administered twice a year
  • A second accompanying volume (to be read by students) with graded word lists, passages, and early literacy assessments
  • Helpful “Expert Noticing Observation Guide”

An informal reading inventory is a useful supplement to individual standardized testing of special needs kids, which is administered by a school psychologist and typically occurs once every three years.  Systematic observation of student reading is a key asset of this inventory.  I highly recommend Johns’ informal reading inventory.

* Rubric for good sportsmanship

Here’s a sample rubric for good sportsmanship.  I do use that term, even with kindergartners, because I figure they might as well start off learning terminology that we’ll continue to use in the future.  When teaching kids how to join in a game, we do a lot of videotaped rehearsals and practice with puppets and peers.  Most of my kiddos hate to lose (me, too!) so I give them opportunities to win games and then gradually wean them off victory into the “real” world.  They enjoy hearing how I used to cheat my sister at Monopoly (“Oh, my teacher is human!”) and I emphasize candor as we navigate the winning and losing issues.  Obviously, some rubrics for good sportsmanship will have a greater focus on simply joining in, because some kids are at a loss during recess.  Other kids need more emphasis on playing fair or managing their feelings if they lose a game.  The best rubrics are individualized and supported by direct instruction. rubric good sportsmanship

* K12 Reader

K12 readerK12 Reader is terrific FREE website packed with helpful student materials and resources for parents and teachers.  Founded in 2008 by parents (with 5 kids in the public schools) and supported by veteran teachers, this site was initially designed to help parents navigate the maze of reading instruction.  They have done that… and MUCH more!

The site is well-organized and easy to search.  Here are the three main sections:

Browse Worksheets:  Worksheets may be viewed by subject, grade, common core standard, and theme.  By subject, you can find worksheets on spelling, reading skills, grammar, vocabulary, and composition.  The number of worksheets under each topic varies, but there are plenty from which to choose.  There are 65 worksheets on parts of speech alone.  A number of topics cover a 36-week instructional span, such as those in spelling and reading comprehension.  By grade, thousands of worksheets span kindergarten through 12th grade; spelling worksheets cover 1st through 5th grade.  By theme, there are excellent worksheets on black history, women’s rights, Native Americans, and holidays.  Finally, you can search for worksheets by Common Core State Standards.  A large preview of each worksheet is available and all may be downloaded and printed for classroom use.

Learning Center:  This section of K12 Reader includes Reference, Q & A, Articles, and Resources.  The Reference section focuses on language arts, with tips for vocabulary, common errors, and terms such as “literary devices.”  Some areas are still under construction or being updated, such as the Q & A section.  I believe the Articles section will be very helpful to parents who are trying to understand jargon that teachers toss around, such as “content area reading” and “balanced literacy,” for example.  The articles are well-written and concise.  My favorite section was Reading and Other Educational Resources, with links to a variety of helpful sites for teachers and parents.

Graphics and Lists:  (I actually ‘named’ this section, which features a site search instead of a title.)  Lesson plan templates, graphics, and book lists are found in this section.  The lesson plan templates may save teachers at all grade levels some big bucks.  The graphics are in three main categories: reading certificates, reading bookmarks, and KWL charts for K through 12th grade.  The book lists are categorized by awards, which gives parents and teachers a look at some of the best books around.  This was my first exposure to The Gryphon Award, books which are chosen by their ability to bridge the gap between read alouds and books for practiced readers (K-4).

There are ads on the pages, but these are easy to ignore; they probably make it possible for K12 Reader to “keep up the good work!”  The developers of the site have obviously devoted considerable effort and talent in creating these free materials.  Did I say FREE?