* Rubric for completing homework

I get a lot of requests for rubrics.  Here’s one for completing homework.  (One caveat: I am NOT a homework advocate, but I recognize that I hold a minority opinion, since every kid I serve has homework.)  I am assuming that your child is a special needs student, although the rubric could be used by any student with homework issues, so it would be a good idea to get the special educator to support the rubric.  As always, someone must rehearse the use of a rubric.  This can involve role-playing, videotaping, possible incentives, and discussions, perhaps with the special ed teacher; many kids do best when they know that the work is “teacher assigned.”  I always imagine a student in order to create a rubric, so like all effective rubrics, this is individualized to meet the needs of “Jacob.”   Jacob must earn 12 stars for his reward as we start using this rubric.  The number of stars required will rise as he meets that first modest requirement.  If your child does not experience initial success, then you must lower the bar pronto.  Say, “Oops! I thought I said you had to get EIGHT stars!  My bad!”  homework rubric

* Common Core Sheets

Don’t let the name scare you!  Whatever your stand on Common Core,  Common Core Sheets is a great resource for FREE math worksheets, along with language arts, spelling, science, and social studies.    The site has been created by a former math, science, and social studies teacher named Robert.  He has done an impressive job of creating thousands of worksheets.  Math seems to be his specialty, with over 50 categories of math problems.  That doesn’t even include the create-a-review, create-a-test, and cheat sheets.  The grade levels include 1st through 6th (but higher in some categories).  Very impressive!

Let’s take a look at just one math topic: multi-step word problems.  Notice the thumbnail image on the left side of each topic.  If you hover your mouse on that image, you can preview the worksheet.Commoncoresheets 1

To the right of each topic above, there’s an option to “Select a Worksheet.”  There are typically 10 downloadable pdf worksheets available (with answer sheets), plus an option to “Grab ’em All” in a single downloadable pdf, AND the option to create your own worksheet.

Common Core Sheets has some very cool features:

  1. The entire site, including all the worksheets, can be translated into SEVEN languages, including Spanish (great for dual language programs).
  2. Modified worksheets are available for lower functioning students and those who are beginning a topic.
  3. The site has create-a-sheet options for all subjects. An interactive tutorial is provided.  Teacher-generated worksheets may include a variety of answer choices, including: short answer, multiple choice, fill in the blank, long answer, and true/false.  These sheets may also be saved and shared with other teachers.
  4. The worksheets can be personalized to include use of school colors and common core standards, if desired. Teachers may also add the first names of their own students to be substituted in the problems with kids’ names.  How cool is that?
  5.  Teachers may save their sheets for others to share.  The FAQ page has a list of teacher questions and site answers if the teacher has allowed comments to be public.

Robert has a lot of cool additions coming to the site, but even as it is, the worksheets are excellent.  As I noted above, the entire site is FREE but you may donate through PayPal if so inclined.  I am not sure how he supports himself; there are a few ads on the site but nothing invasive.  It’s worth contributing to this fine effort!

* ReadWorks

readworks 2Do you want FREE access to over 1,800 reading passages for grades K-6 with questions sets, skill and strategy units, hundreds of lesson plans, comprehension units based on trade books, and novel study units for 5th and 6th grades?  Of course you do!  Is it really free?  Yes!  Are the skills and materials aligned to state and common core standards, as well as commonly used reading programs?  Another yes!

ReadWorks.org is a nonprofit organization devoted to eliminating the reading achievement gap in our country.  Once teachers register, they have a personal online “binder” for saving anything provided on the site.  A wealth of resources for registered users are organized into four key areas.

1.  Skill and strategy units include the topics pictured below.   These specific skills are taught through the vast number of reading passages available on this site.

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2.  Comprehension units: These are detailed lesson plans using trade books and paired reading passages from the ReadWorks site.  All lessons follow a progression of teacher modeling (the “I” part), guided practice (the “We” part) and independent reading (the “You”” part).  A script is provided to support teacher modeling, including think-aloud strategies and questions to engage students.  All materials are provided except for the trade books, which should be available in your school or public library.  Graphic organizers and comprehension questions for students may be downloaded and/or printed.

3.  Novel Study units:  For 5th and 6th grade classes, these units are listed by genre and lexile and Fountas& Pinnell levels.  Here’s the fifth grade set of lessons.

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4.  Reading Passages:  So far, there are over 1,800 passages from which to choose; more materials are added continuously.  The image below indicates the breadth of the search features.  readworks 5

Registration is quick and FREE!  I encourage you to join over a million registered users and take advantage of this marvelous resource.  For a more comprehensive tour of the site, please click on the video below.

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* The conversation–how and when to tell your child about Autism; our version

Read on for an wonderful post about talking to your child about his or her unique gifts and exceptional qualities. This mom’s son was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome and she handled it with such grace and love. I hope you find it helpful.

Life With Legos

How and when to tell your child he or she is different and special is a huge topic of debate. I see it all the time on facebook pages. I generally respond- with a very condensed version of how we handled the conversation. I thought I had blogged about it, but apparently not. So here it is…..
The Brick was older, as ASD diagnoses go, when he was diagnosed. At five he got an ADHD diagnosis, and then at seven got a behavioral/mental health diagnosis. It wasn’t until just after his eighth birthday, and a year of us not being fully satisfied with the diagnosis and services, that he got an ASD/Asperger diagnosis.
As an SLP who worked with lots of little ones with Autism and Asperger I couldn’t believe I had missed it, but you know what they say; “If you’ve met one child with Autism, you’ve met one…

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* Building a better shapes book

Which one doesn’t belong? What if EVERY answer were correct? This is a fascinating post with a free download of Christopher’s book on shapes. Intriguing and useful for many grade levels.

Talking Math with Your Kids

There are many shapes books available for reading with children. Most of them are very bad. I have complained about this for years.

Now I have done something about it.

Most shapes books—whether board books for babies and toddlers, or more sophisticated books for school-aged children—are full of misinformation and missed opportunities. As an example, there is nearly always one page for squares and a separate one for rectangles. There is almost never a square on the rectangles page. That’s a missed opportunity. Often, the text says that a rectangle has two short sides and two long sides. That’s misinformation. A square is a special rectangle, just as a child is a special person.

After years of contemplation, I had a kernel of an idea the other night. The kids are back in school before I am, so I had some flex time available. One thing led to another and…

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* What’s a school to do?

MLK day 1Here’s a great example of what schools can do to continue Dr. Martin Luther King. Jr.’s life work.  As described in today’s News and Observer, Dr. King’s birthday was celebrated in keeping with his beliefs on community service: “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?”  At St. Mary’s School, students served their community and talked about race and privilege.  As chaplain Ann Bonner-Stewart said, “If we’re not educating students about the way privilege manifests in our lives- it’s like not teaching math.”


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* Words of wisdom from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

From history.com

Photo from History.com

“We must remember that intelligence is not enough. Intelligence plus character-that is the goal of true education. The complete education gives one not only power of concentration, but worthy objectives upon which to concentrate.”

“People fail to get along because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don’t know each other; they don’t know each other because they have not communicated with each other.”

“The time is always right to do the right thing.”

“Now there is a final reason I think that Jesus says, “Love your enemies.” It is this: that love has within it a redemptive power. And there is a power there that eventually transforms individuals. Just keep being friendly to that person. Just keep loving them, and they can’t stand it too long. Oh, they react in many ways in the beginning. They react with guilt feelings, and sometimes they’ll hate you a little more at that transition period, but just keep loving them. And by the power of your love they will break down under the load. That’s love, you see. It is redemptive, and this is why Jesus says love. There’s something about love that builds up and is creative. There is something about hate that tears down and is destructive. So love your enemies.”
Martin Luther King Jr., A Knock at Midnight: Inspiration from the Great Sermons of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.

* A Land Divided

This article was posted in today’s News and Observer.  Written by Isabel Wilkerson, it describes a history of migration of which many whites are probably unfamiliar.  This article includes the author’s hope that we will ALL learn to live with respect and humanity towards one another.  In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “We must live together as brothers or perish together as fools.”Noth face racism

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* Math struggles 601: Rubric for relearning math

Students who are struggling with math have a difficult path in front of them.  They must relearn many partially and/or incorrectly learned procedures.  Frequently, these students must deal with anxiety and strong feelings of stupidity.  To make matters worse, most of their peers are still sprinting along, leaving our struggling learners with an increasing gap.  Relearning is crucial, but how do we motivate kids to tackle this process?

Some kids are more likely to willingly participate in this process than others.  Younger kids may not even understand the nature of their gap or their missing skills.  Younger kids have less to relearn.  Some have not developed crippling anxiety.  A few of these kids may be “laid back” and relatively unconcerned about their performance.  (I have only taught two “relaxed” students like this in over 40 years.)

For the rest of the struggling math learners, we must change the playing field through motivation and success.  By the time these struggling students are in fourth and fifth grade, their primary goal is to avoid math in any way possible.  “One and done” has become their motto.  This means that external motivation is required (like the motivation that keeps many adults in their unhappy work situations).   The reward system must be robust.  Teachers need to involve parents in the process, perhaps for the actual rewards, depending upon student interests and options available.

I think it’s important to pair discussions/role-playing with any form of motivation.  For this purpose, I create rubrics that prepare kids for new expectations and also allow kids to accurately evaluate their performance in math lessons.  They are not evaluating their math achievement but how well they handle the frustrations of math intervention.  Videotaping may supplement the use of rubrics.  You are not only changing math skills; you are shaping attitudes and effort.

The following rubric is designed for a specific student.  He is extremely discouraged, feels stupid, and has significant attention problems.  There’s a bit of overlap between the categories by name, but the specifics allow this student to bomb in one area but still score points.  As we work together, I am certain to adjust the rubric.  The first question I face is where to set the bar (that is, how many stars equal what level or type of reward?).  It’s important for my student to achieve initial success with this system, so the bar will start low.  As he moves forward, I’ll raise the bar.math rubric
I mentioned above that motivation and success are key in helping students.  As students improve their math performance, anxiety lessens.  In future posts, I’ll share some tips for maximizing success.

* Survival Tip #15 Remember the good old days

Milo was a kindergartner in my self-contained class for students with behavioral and emotional disorders.  He joined my class for the latter part of that school year after assaulting adults and peers in a regular classroom.  Milo was small for his age but quite muscular and agile.  His school readiness skills were in the basement.  He responded well to the structure of my room and was fine as long as he was in my line of sight.  All bets were off if I lost sight of him for a few seconds.  One of the first things I did was make a home visit; I wanted to see how Milo functioned out of school.  He was never home when I made my visits and no one ever knew where he was.  His mom took one look at me and told me how to handle him.  “You tell Milo the “Enforcer” is in that room and you won’t have any problems.”  I must have looked confused, so Milo’s mom explained that he believed she was always watching, Enforcer in hand.  The Enforcer was a giant stick, to be applied liberally if he acted up.  I had social services involved in the wink of an eye.  Of course, I never mentioned the Enforcer to Milo, but I did find myself searching for it occasionally.

I gave Milo my best effort.  It was hard to form a relationship with him, but he seemed to like me.  He probably had an attachment disorder along with a slew of his other diagnosed deficits.  Milo made no connections with his classmates (other than with his fists).  I had to restrain him a few times, but he would immediately calm down and make perfunctory apologies.  His academic performance did not improve much.  I worked hard to find ways to praise him (“Wow, I like the way you are breathing!” popped into my head once or twice).  After a couple of months, we came to the last day of school.  I watched Milo approach the room but he didn’t see me.  Uh-oh.  He flattened a fellow kindergartner with a vicious kick to the belly just outside our door.  When I asked him about it later, he didn’t even know the kid, nor had they interacted.  I wondered if he was sad about leaving my class; his mother was moving, apparently able to find him long enough to take him with her.

Fast forward about six years.  Same class, new kiddos.  One of the kids started crying during our class meeting, describing a neighborhood bully.  In a private conversation, it turned out that this bully was sexually assaulting him and other kids at gunpoint.  The bully’s name?  Milo.  Social services was contacted again and I told my student to run if he saw Milo.  A few years later, Milo was in juvie for sexual assault and other violent acts.  Then he graduated to adult jail.

Fast forward again about 10 years.  I was at our administrative offices, hanging up an art display created by my kids.  I was on a ladder, just about finished, when I looked down the long hallway.  I saw Milo walking in my direction.  He was an adult, but I could tell it was him (and he had once lived in that neighborhood).  “Oh, Lord,” I prayed, “Please don’t let him see me!  Don’t let him remember that I restrained him years ago!”  I turned my head away and held my breath.  And then I heard him say, “Mrs. Teachezwell!”  I looked down at him and saw a beautiful smile.  I could tell that he was overjoyed to see me.  I climbed down the ladder and we hugged for a couple of minutes.  I looked up at this tall, muscular guy, grabbed his shoulders and said, “Wow!  You are all grown up!”  (“And breathing!”)  He smiled.  Milo was genuinely glad to see me, former restraints or not.  I could not come up with much to say.  “How was prison?” “Assault anyone lately?”

I do think of him from time to time.  He was birthed in alcohol, drugs, and violence.  I remember worrying that he would kill his mom when he got bigger than the Enforcer.  Dear Milo.  I am glad that you remember the good old days.  prison-370534_640