* Behavior contract for sibs

This behavior contract is for kiddos who are having significant problems getting along with one another.  Ideally, this would be accompanied by encouragement (“You can do this and you’ll be glad you did!”) and role playing; these kids are also in a difficult time of transition so their behavior is exacerbated by many factors.  On the other hand, they DO want positive attention, they DO love one another (deep, deep down), and they DO know how to behave more acceptably.

Key features of behavior contracts: focus on positive behavior, add rewards for extra effort, allow kids a wide range of rewards, and include a record-keeping system with self-evaluation.ways to earn points

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* NERDS book review

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NERDS: National Espionage, Rescue, and Defense Society is a fast-paced, kids-as-spies thriller and spoof.  The main characters are, well, nerds, who have been recruited by a top secret government agency to combat villains by using nanobyte technology.  Jackson Jones, once a cool 5th grade jock and very much full of himself, plummets from social acclaim to nerd status when he is fitted with the most tortuous set of braces ever designed.  Amazingly, his braces become a secret weapon, but in the end, Jackson’s indomitable spirit, along with a newfound humility, save the day.  Almost.

The author, Michael Buckley, creates this wacky and hilarious story which is the first in a series of five books featuring the NERDS secret society.  Buckley’s characters are straight out of upper elementary or middle school, with lots of “ew!” moments.  Each nerd spy is outfitted with a weapon system built around his or her weakness, which is an interesting concept (see social skills application below).  Students will not be disappointed in the high tech features of this story.  It’s an action packed adventure that travels the globe, just like James Bond movies.  The entire book is written as a transmission of sorts and the reader must provide increasingly (gross) samples of DNA to receive the next level.  There’s no way to keep a straight face as a kid is hunting for ear wax to put on a sensor!  Eventually, the author is makes an all-out ploy for cash, which is just as funny as the rest of the book.

I was surprised that Buckley kills off some folks in this book.  When facing an evil genius bent on destroying the world, I guess there must be casualties.  The “violence” is tempered by humor; pinatas with missiles can really mess up a birthday party.  The book is a fast read, features astounding artificial intelligence, and suggests that Michael Buckley is one quick-witted but wacky guy.  Visit his website for more spy fun; kids can join the NERDS team by answering a set of questions and being assigned a code name.  Very cool.

Special education application:  This is a 5 star book with special appeal to kiddos with learning and social challenges.  The distress and humiliation of bullying is not glossed over, despite Jackson’s total denial that he ever bullied anyone.  In fact, the entire plot is predicated on the good, the bad, and the ugly of elementary and middle school social mores.  NERDS makes a great read aloud for social skills groups, with an abundance of topics to explore.

 

* Color your world desert sand…

… And have fun with programming at the same time!  This is the game board for a ThinkFun game for preschoolers called Robot Turtles.

Robot TurtlesIt’s never too early to play logic (aka coding) games and if you are trying to steer clear of screens with your younger ones or even introduce the joys of hands-on games to older kiddos, ThinkFun is a terrific resource.  A local toy store keeps us supplied with some of their classics, but you’ll probably have to go online to check out their wealth of problem- solving games.  The availability of non-screen games is shrinking, so it’s ironic that you need your screen to purchase hands-on fun.

I highly recommend ThinkFun as a source of individual and group entertainment, with brain challenges galore.  Does your kiddo have social skill challenges?  The structure of a group game can provide a satisfying, well-defined opportunity to engage with others.  Try Escape the Room mystery game (ages 10+). where you are transported back to 1869 to save a local astronomer.  These games are terrific for parties as well as family night fun.  Have a long car trip in your future?  ThinkFun has a number of fascinating 1 player games, too.

Thanks, Jennifer Nicole Wells, for your Color Your World challenge featuring desert sand.

* Christopher and me: update

It’s been ages since I updated you all on my tutoring sessions with Christopher, my nephew on the autism spectrum.  Christopher continues to work hard, flying in the house eagerly after a long day at school.  He has enough energy for both of us!

Great progress on vocabulary:  The number of unfamiliar words we encounter per session can be daunting, but with continual chipping away, using Quizlet and “natural” conversations, Christopher is steadily moving forward.  By “natural” conversations, I mean anything related to his fascination with all things Bowser and Donkey Kong.  Did you know these video characters can be sinister, peer at others, have jagged claws, and bolt away from enemies?  Christopher enjoys thinking of ways to include the vocabulary words so that he can safely talk about Bowser without straying “off task.”  Clever young man.

Improved word recognition has led to improved reading and listening comprehension, but we have miles to go before he is on grade level.  On the other hand, his improving language skills will eventually bring him close to that goal.  We are still progressing through the language-based Tasks of Problem-Solving, after which I’ll need to decide on next steps.  Christopher has come a LONG way since this past summer; he now answers 10 complex questions on problem scenarios with about 80% accuracy, depending upon his focus and familiarity with the topic.

A one-track mind:  Christopher asked me today, “Why is it bad to talk about one thing?”  We had a delightful discussion of conversational skills and his preference for lots of Mario and little “active.”  Did you know that “active” makes you hot and cold and that everyone doesn’t like active?  I certainly agreed with him there.  Christopher is at a stage where he recognizes how his narrow interests affect his social standing.  Fortunately, he has found a couple of kiddos who share his interests and dislike of “active.”  He is searching for ways to connect with others, so I asked what he might talk about at school tomorrow.  (Hint: We have winter storm Helena barreling in our direction.)  I can guarantee that Christopher is not going to mention the possibility of 5″ of snow.  When we got to that part of my suggestions, all he could imagine was “no school on Monday,” which led to quiet fascination of a day devoted to all things Bowser and no “active.”

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* Electronics as contact sports

There’s a time and place for electronics.  At our house, it’s every Saturday.  We call it movie night, but it’s currently morphed into digital dynamite.  Somehow, the kids manage to transform every  activity into a contact sport.  As the social event coordinator, my usual comment is “That’s horseplay.  Outside only, please.”  I can (privately) encourage Christopher to stop repeatedly saying, “You’re my best friend, right?”  Human nature being what it is, kids don’t value desperate friends.  Christopher hasn’t said that once tonight, BTW!

I managed to catch the kiddos looking like angels…

but I watch them like a hawk, alert them to decibel levels over 90, and scan for those furtive glances that mean someone has stepped over a boundary.  These Saturday nights have been a terrific learning experience for me.  I refine my behavior strategies, watch multiple game plays of Mario Bros., learn how to use nunchucks, and record videos for a nephew’s YouTube channel.  Mostly, I love spending time with a motley crew of adorable kiddos.  And their guardians breathe a sigh of relief!

* The Lightning Club

This is a post on one of the most delightful social skills groups I have ever taught.  There were seven kids in the group.  I was desperate for an eighth student for partner activities, but we managed.  The kids were in fourth grade but all of them had been retained, so they were fifth grade age.  Three were labeled with behavior/ emotional disorders and four were high functioning autistic students.  It was one of those wonderful groups where we actually had a non-lunch time slot and it was at the end of the day.  That meant we weren’t rushing to cram down our food and I could squeeze every possible second out the session.

The kids were a joy to teach.  They were wildly enthusiastic about everything, including bossing each other, winning every game at any cost, and being in charge of everyone else’s business.  I much prefer a group with spunk, and these guys had it in spades.  They arrived like firecrackers.  I’d selected the bossiest student to remind the others,going class-to-class, that it was time for our group,  They assured me, panting and out of breath, that they had all walked down the hall.  Of course, they immediately tattled on each other for running   So we started off in fine spirits, with additional bickering about who got to sit on the edge of the table closest to me.  I smiled at the thought of all the skills they were going to learn.  (Eventually they learned to walk to my room 76% of the time.)

Because everyone in the group was so strong-willed, it took us weeks to decide on a name and theme for our “club.”  We ended up being The Lightning Club.  They thought it was a cool name; I thought it was prophetic.  What made this group so appealing?  I loved their honesty most of all.  Everything was out in the open, including their disputes and struggles in class and at home.  They would tell me that our role-playing had no effect at all on their classroom behavior.  In their respective classrooms, and with each other, they were social outcasts.  They had been at the same school since kindergarten and had grown to dislike one another as much as other kids disliked them.  When we started The Lightning Club, none of them would pick anyone else to be a partner, citing numerous old grudges and the “disgusting” behavior of their fellow Clubbers.lightning-bolt

I started us off with games.  I could only manage two games or groups at a time, because there were so many conflicts.  Everyone memorized “Play fair, Take turns, and Say nice things” pretty quickly.  The kids used checklists to monitor themselves, although they much preferred to monitor everyone else.  “Winning and Losing” was another challenge.  I would ask, “Do you want to win or do you want friends?”  The answer was “I want to win at all costs,” but I could identify with them, easily being the most competitive of all.  They rather enjoyed smearing me in games.

We worked our way through basic skills, spitting out “nice” words to each on command.  I videotaped everything and we watched edited versions, which they enjoyed a great deal.  We role-played a skill (which was nicely done in practice), then I set them loose and refereed the semi-chaos.  We laughed a lot, because I did let them demonstrate how NOT to make friends.  They were experts at NOT making friends, so we had plenty of fun with those skits.

We’d been together about a month when I initiated our altruistic phase.  I wanted them to experience the satisfaction of helping others.  Their suggestions?  All variations of me buying them stuff.  Ultimately, they decided to record a series of self-created puppet shows on social skills for younger kids.  I had dramatically described the difficulties these younger kids were having, so my wild group was quite eager to set the little ones on the right course.  The puppet shows were challenging.  Lightning Clubbers had to agree on a theme, fight over the more desirable puppets, and take turns being the bossy director.  I kept reminding them of our purpose, to help these poor little kids who had no friends.  It was a worthwhile project for a couple of reasons.  Their practice was more authentic than it had been when rehearsing for themselves and the videos were actually engaging to younger kids.

By winter break, The Lightning Club coalesced into a real community.  We settled into a natural rhythm of activities, often suggested by the kids, with opportunities to role-play, critique videotapes, and work through conflicts between group members.  Kids no longer had to be forced to think of positive comments for others.  Yes, there were days when keeping everyone separated was my best strategy.  Like a large family, we laughed and struggled together.  We had parties to celebrate almost everything.  When the kids decided to make gifts for one another, I felt like a contented mother hen with a brood of spunky chicks.

I wish I could say that the rest of their school year was as successful.  On the last day of school (a half day, at that), most of my group had been transported to me for an impromptu “session,” booted out of their rooms for disruptive behavior.  Their presence was bittersweet under the circumstances, but I was thrilled they could spend their last few hours at school under my wings.

* Pinpricks of light amid the darkness

You gotta love this sweet kid who sews bears for sick kids.  Perhaps your child may be inspired, too!

Video post by @bitterbluebird.

Source: Pinpricks of light amid the darkness

* Tiny Tap’s terrific online courses

Tiny Tap takes online learning to a new level with curated Tiny Tap Courses!  Now teachers and parents can combine lessons to create seamless learning units!  Competency can be determined by requiring students to reach a certain score before advancing to the next lesson or continuous practice is available without requiring a minimum score.  Students also earn certificates as they complete courses.  Here’s a look at how phonics instruction can be personalized by grouping skills for particular students.  With over 80 thousand available lessons, comprehensive instruction is a tap away!

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Tiny Tap’s lessons and units are available in 30 languages and offer personalized instruction on a wide range of topics.  In case you’d forgotten, Tiny Tap offers parents and teachers insights on individual and class performance while providing differentiated learning experiences for students.  Tiny Tap is a terrific resource for special needs students with a wide range of needs.

If all that isn’t enough, what about making money while you individualize instruction?  Here’s the Tiny Tap teacher-driven economy.  You gotta love it!

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I could easily imagine a social skills unit for my dear Christopher.  I think it’s time for me to start tapping!

 

* Christopher and me: what to read?

If you’re following this blog, you know I am tutoring my nephew, Christopher.  He’s A Sweet Dude (ASD) who flies into the house 4 times a week, calling out, “Aunt Katharine!  Aunt Katharine!”  When we started working together, I was a bit daunted by his weaknesses in language, social skills, reading comprehension, and writing.  But you would not believe his amazing progress!  He is a real trooper, working as hard as he can during long sessions after school.  Christopher writes 5 paragraph stories using graphic organizers, with over 80% of the work unaided by me.  That’s a huge reversal from his inability to write independently at all when we started.

Christopher’s progress in reading is equally strong.  While he still does not enjoy reading out loud, he understands that it helps him read more carefully; allows us to discuss unfamiliar vocabulary; and provides opportunities for analysis of characters and plot and making inferences and predictions.  I give him a “speeding ticket” when he races past punctuation, his eyes widening with delight as he gets ticketed.

How do I decide what books for him to read?  Like many kids on the autism spectrum, Christopher can identify words at grade level, but his comprehension lags well below that.  His preferred interests are video games, but given his eagerness for tutoring, I don’t need to stick with Mario Bros to keep his attention.  I look for books which are at his word-recognition level and will require him to learn needed skills.  Most importantly, I match the essence of him.  Christopher has a wacky sense of humor and loves anything gross, with shades of mischief and mayhem (yes, we are related!).  That brings to mind Roald Dahl, right?  We started with “The Twits” and have graduated to “James and the Giant Peach.”  These books provide a socially acceptable way to talk about nostrils and cabbage-shaped aunts and sad events to which he has strong personal connections.  Would you believe I have to force him to stop reading?   It’s all good.

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* Anonymous scholars

This month’s Teaching Children Mathematics features an excellent article entitled “Learning From the Unknown Student.”   What’s that about?   The idea is to expose students to effective strategies and prompt analysis of others’ mathematical reasoning by using “anonymous scholar” work.  The unknown student provides an avenue for sharing an alternate problem- solving approach without leading students to believe it’s the Teacher Way of doing math.  I typically employ a variation of this strategy in writing and social skills, but it is equally effective in math.

Let’s say I want a student to recognize a common error in her writing, perhaps an abundance of incomplete sentences.  But this kiddo does not see those mistakes and is already hyper-sensitive about correction.  That’s when I introduce “a student from last year” whose writing is replete with the same errors.  Now my student becomes a helpful editor and delights in using effective strategies to catch those errors, such as reading the sample out loud and using a rubric or checklist.  I have found that students are much more relaxed about revisions and editing when they have sliced-and-diced someone else’s work.  Where do I find these student samples?  Some are actually students from last year.  Others are copied from Google images or a search such as “writing samples, grade 2.”

For those students who struggle to add a specific feature to their writing, such as an effective opening sentence, I will use commercially-prepared mentor texts (Empowering Writers is a good choice) and graphic organizers with built-in prompts (usually created by me).  There’s no point in replicating my students’ dismal classroom experiences, where other kids seem to write effortlessly.  Those scholars are not anonymous.

In social skills instruction, I tell anecdotes or write social stories about anonymous scholars who struggle to make friends or follow directions.  I have also referred to “a student at another school, but I can’t tell you his name.”  It’s amazing how my students immediately verbalize highly effective strategies for dealing with these issues.  For the younger set, we watch puppets literally wrestle with familiar social and academic glitches.  Sometimes I wonder what kind of teacher I am, since Rocky the raccoon and Sandy the pup never learn to take turns, listen to others, or manage their frustration!

In the examples I’ve shared, there is a downside to using anonymous scholars.  A student with very low self-esteem may attempt to build his confidence on the back of that pitiful kid who can’t add 1 + 1.  However, I think that is more easily managed than erasing 50% of the answers on a math page, then telling the kids they are improving.  Who would believe that?  silhouette