* Reading A-Z

R A-Z 9Reading A-Z is a mega-site for all things reading, one of 7 amazing sister sites under Learning A-Z’s umbrella.  (In a previous post, I described the abundance of useful features in Writing A-Z.)  Reading A-Z just keeps getting better and better.  It was launched in 2002 as a resource site for teachers with printable leveled books and a small selection of decodable books.  Its expansion since then has been phenomenal.  Reading A-Z continues to provide books, now more than 2500 (including English, Spanish and French versions) at 27 reading levels.  But this site goes far beyond downloadable books.  From the new project-based selections to tools for assessments, this site has a wealth of materials for individual and classroom use.

Considering the breadth of resources provided, Reading A-Z is extremely well organized.  I decided to use screen shots instead of words to illustrate what your membership provides. Under the Resources tab, teachers can access the following types of books by category (their decodable selection remains small), related resources (such as trade book lessons and literature circles), and materials by content area.R A-Z 1

The Key Reading Skills area features materials related to fluency, comprehension, writing, and vocabulary. To support comprehension of visual materials, there are recipes, schedules, pie charts, maps, flow charts, and much more.  Their Close Reading Packets are terrific.  I have subscribed to Vocabulary A-Z (in pink below) and it’s equally well done.
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Under Foundational Skills, you’ll find excellent guidance on teaching phonics and phonological awareness to regular ed students, a portion of whom will struggle significantly if not provided these components of reading instruction.  R A-Z 3

Common Core/21st Century resources include supplemental materials for the “regular” reading lessons with an emphasis upon academic vocabulary, graphic organizers, and close reading features, among others.

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Under Assessments, Reading A-Z’s timed fluency passages and retell rubrics for fiction and nonfiction are especially worth using.  The benchmark passages are aligned with the Fountas and Pinnell leveled reading system.R A-Z 5

For ELL and Bilingual students, many books are already available with a regular subscription, but to access their full range of materials, you must purchase an additional license.

Instructional Uses organizes resources into sections for specific use, such as summer reading or project-based packs. This section includes thirty graphic organizers and a wide selection of matching and other games.  They also provide useful forms, tips, and labels for teachers.

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Books are usually available as single sided, double sides, and projectable; they may be printed in black and white or color in most cases.  Each book is accompanied by a lesson plan, discussion cards, worksheets, and comprehension quiz.  Teachers may “file” any materials in an online filing cabinet with easy access to individualized folders.  The cost of a yearly subscription to Reading A-Z is very reasonable.  Learning A-Z also offers membership discounts, typically before the school year starts.  If you’re not sure whether this site is for you, there are free 14 days trial for all Learning A-Z sites. I highly recommend Reading A-Z!

* Students as teachers

In a previous post, I described how our special needs kids can develop leadership by “mentoring” other students, taking advantage of our kids’ interests and skills to teach others.  I recently came across this article from The Reading Teacher (Vol. 67 Issue 8, 2014), written by Megan Kramer.  She describes her classroom as a place where students are “experts” and the powerful impact it has upon struggling learners.  From kids on the autism spectrum to those with dyslexia, all our students are experts in some area.  Let’s provide opportunities for them to shine!  If you’re a parent, suggest this idea to your child’s teacher.  As Megan notes, it is not difficult to set up and the rewards are huge.Expert classes

* this IS your fight

Read more for an update on Dynamic Community Charter’s efforts to stay afloat. Please consider helping them financially. If a lot of us give just a little, they can meet their goals. Let’s do it for these kids and their families!

Dynamic Dragons Speak Out!

This fight IS your fight.

If you care when human beings in need are marginalized because of their challenges, this is your fight.

If you care that schools are overcrowded; that adolescents and teens suffer bullying and often become suicidal; that teachers have less and less say about how to teach their students, this is your fight.

If you want to see every child given every possibility to succeed, and you believe school should not cause children stress or anxiety, this is your fight.

If you have, love, or know an exceptional needs child at any age, this is your fight.

Things begin to change when we see beyond our own borders; when we think more deeply than our own perspective; when we become willing to advocate for those who can’t advocate for themselves.


I sat in my daughter’s IEP meeting recently, surrounded by people who care about her, educators…

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* Order in the court

gavel 2If I ran into you in the teacher’s lounge, I would tell you that I spent most of yesterday in a courtroom.  It was one of those painful family cases.  I would also tell you that I am lost in the world of judges and attorneys.  I did not know I was blasting the court recorder’s ears as I moved the microphone to my lips (until she asked me to back off).  I started to answer several questions that the judge asked attorneys, not me.  If I were caught on film, you would see my hand covering my mouth as I choked off several responses nearly in time.  The biggest problem I faced was my desire to teach instead of testify.  Everyone was extremely patient with me, but it was a nerve-wracking experience.  I had to switch my educational jargon into plain English.  I could tell that folks didn’t understand Response to Intervention, various surveys, and reading instruction.  My job is to teach, right?  Not in court, although I was granted “expert witness status” based on my own summary of my resume and certification.  (No, I did not perjure myself.)  But by the time court was adjourned, I felt like a limp noodle.

Imagine you are a student thrust into a strange environment, the classroom, where one person challenges and talks at you all day.  Imagine having your words corrected and your responses misunderstood.  Imagine that you speak a language or dialect that is misunderstood.  Imagine that despite your very best efforts, you fail to perform well.  Imagine that you are desperately trying to understand the rules of conduct, but they seem to change unexpectedly.  Imagine that you must address people by specific titles and that your movement is constrained by rules which are not made clear.  Imagine that you are given feedback based on criteria with which you were unfamiliar.  I couldn’t help but think that many of our kids on the autism spectrum, those with ADHD, and our English Language Learners must experience at least some of these conditions daily in a classroom.  When kindergartners first arrive to the world of school, they are often as lost as I was yesterday.  I think my courtroom experience was a good reminder of how teachers must look at our “familiar” world through the eyes of another.

* A message for all – True Colors – MattyB & Olivia Kay – Listen with your heart

I know most folks don’t click on video links, but this is a special look at bullying and a delightful resolution. It only takes one bystander to change a life.

The Qwiet Muse

Just listen . . . really, really listen.

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* Adventures in…Desegregation

Nerd In The Brain shares her participation in a local discussion of the desegregation of her town. I think it’s a great idea for all of us to to research our local history of racial injustice. Schools can invite black members of the community (ideally, relatives of students) to share their experiences. We all need this history with its passion and truth.

* Writing A-Z

Writing A-Z 1Writing A-Z has come of age in an decade of changing strategies and expectations for teaching writing.  One of seven sister sites under the Learning A-Z umbrella, it is a well-organized, terrific resource for teaching writing instruction in grades K through 6.

The site is organized into three major categories: Lessons, Skills, and Tools.  Let’s take a look at the Lessons section first.  It has two major components: one for emerging writers and the other for genres.  Under emerging writers, teachers will find a series of lesson plans for six stages of writing, from single words to two complex sentences.  Student checklists, prompts (including photos), and templates for writing are available to download or print.  in the genres section, teachers will find a wide range of lesson plans and samples for beginning through fluent writers in the following types of writing: expository, narrative, persuasive, procedural, and transactional.  Each genre contains a variety of subtopics.  For example, expository writing is composed of five separate types, such as informational and biography.

The Skills section includes five mini-lessons on individual elements of composition.  Under conventions, there are seven categories, such as paragraphs and punctuation.  Each category includes lesson plans, student models, and practice of the related skill at various writing levels.  The practice sheets for students are extremely well done.  For teachers who want to provide daily practice with grammar, the Write Rights packets are a quick way to supplement instruction without overloading students with lengthy worksheets.

The Tools section is divided into two categories: Emerging Writer and Beginning through Fluent writers.  As much as I value the other sections described above, the tools section is really a wonder.  From videos of authors to sample research packets, rubrics to graphic organizers, the breadth of these writing tools is simply phenomenal.

I highly recommend Writing A-Z as a valuable resource for both regular and special education teachers.  The materials are high quality, with super graphics and no clutter.  I have yet to search for a tool that is not available on this site.  This site is perfect for both beginning and experienced teachers and will easily support the wide range of writing programs being used across the country.

* Glogster

Glogster is a cool online site that allows teachers and students to prepare multimedia presentations.  Over 5 million glogs have been created to date, and over 10,000 are available to admire in Glogpedia.  Never heard of it?  A glog is essentially a single “page,” which can be combined (if desired) into a series of glogs created by one student or an entire class.  Glogs can be created from scratch or built from copied templates.  The image below is one of many templates which can be copied and added to your teacher account.Glogster 2

From this sample, you can see some of the options available to students, which include typing text, adding photos and videos from a webcam or file, adding Glogster images, and modifying pretty much anything on the page.

I think Glogster has great potential for special needs students.  First of all, it is based online (computer or iPad), which appeals to our techies in the world of special ed.  Second, it allows students to use their creativity and divergent thinking without the limitations of fine motor skills, writing, or drawing skills.  No worries about cutting and gluing or finding poster board.  Students with disabilities can work creatively around their weaknesses.  Unable to type or write?  All information can be added via images and videos, if needed.  I would eliminate some of the visual clutter for many of my students, but others may enjoy creating a wild collage of thoughts and ideas.  Third, teachers can assign special needs students as mentors to others through this format, where peers can appreciate and explore those special interests freely.  Students are protected from unwanted internet content but their glogs may be shared via email or classroom wikis under teacher supervision.  Fourth, a glog can serve as a valuable assessment tool as students summarize their understandings about math concepts, character development, and historical timelines.  Finally, glogs can be used by teachers to present information in an alternative form.  For those students who need repetition, are riveted to computers, and/or struggle to listen in a group, glogs can provide an engaging way of introducing concepts and summarizing procedures.

For $39 a year, elementary teachers can purchase a subscription for 30 students. Secondary teachers can enroll up to 125 students for $95 a year.  It’s a great deal which has the potential to boost the confidence and interest of struggling students.

* On the lighter side…

The door to the teachers’ “lounge” is usually papered with a few sign-up sheets, at least one inspirational poster, and a cartoon or two.  Here’s something else you might find:

 Quotes for Teachers

A little nonsense now and then is relished by the wisest men. ~ Roald Dahl

Always remember that you are absolutely unique.  Just like everyone else. ~ Margaret Mead

“Ask yourself: ‘Do I feel the need to laminate?’ Then teaching is for you.” ~ Gordon Korman

“It’s why I went into teaching in the first place. I like the sound of my own voice. Well that, and I am addicted to the smell of chalk and white-board markers.” ~ Mercy Celeste

““…teaching is, after all, a form of show business.” ~ Steve Martin

“Teaching school is like having jumper cables hooked to your brain, draining all the juice out of you.” ~ Stephen King

The only reason I always try to meet and know the parents is because it helps me to forgive their children. ~ Louis Johannot

There are three good reasons to be a teacher – June, July and August. ~ Unknown

* There is no average student

No average student?  Isn’t that contrary to the way our school systems, textbooks, and tests are designed?  In fact, ALL our kids have learning differences, whether labeled or not.  In my online class, I watched an excellent TED video featuring Todd Rose, a high school dropout with dyslexia (and 0.9 GPA) who now teaches Educational Neuroscience at Harvard.   

In an analogy to the current crisis in education, Todd describes the dilemma faced by the Air Force when designing cockpits for fighter jets.  They wanted a cockpit that would best fit the greatest number of pilots.  To their consternation, airplane designers found that there was NO average size among pilots.  Despite protestations that this was an impossible and expensive task, when the Air Force wouldn’t budge from their demands, the designers came up with adjustable seats and controls.  And today, the Air Force pilot pool is more diverse than ever.

Todd Rose makes his case that classrooms are the “cockpit of our economy.”  But we have plummeting math and science scores along with rising dropout rates (including about 50,000 gifted students in the 1.2 million+ high school drop outs every year).   Todd argues that our problem is “bad design.”  We design learning environments for the average student.  But he points out that all students have a “jagged edge” learning profile, so teaching to the average hurts everyone.  Teaching to the average makes talent a liability (“I hate boring school!”) and weaknesses make it hard for us to nurture students’ talents (“I can’t read the science textbook!”).  Todd says we have an opportunity to use technology in creating more flexible learning environments, such as “cockpits” where iPads can read for students, pronounce unfamiliar words, and allow all kids access to engaging activities.  For twice exceptional students, those gifted kids with a learning or social disability, technology provides the opportunity to “teach to the edges” and take advantage of our brilliant workforce in the making.

Now, how do we take the “average” out of testing?  Or put another way, how do we assess “to the edges?”