Wednesday, July 6, 2016

What's your type?

When you are teaching students how to comprehend a text, do you lean toward fiction or nonfiction?

My type tends to be nonfiction ...
      Is this because of the population I am teaching?
      Is this because of my interest?
      Is this because of student interest, especially during the early elementary ages?
      Is it really easier to use nonfiction?

"Much research has been done on why and how students can best comprehend a text, but less has been said about what kinds of text can best aid the development of comprehension skills"  according to Carol Einstein, in Activating Comprehension (EPS).

Nonfiction text allows for quick and easy instruction with "RIGHT THERE" kinds of questions. You know, those kinds of questions that have direct answers that are right there in the text. This is a common first step when teaching comprehension.

Nonfiction has many features - those great TEXT FEATURES that we emphasize. Have you heard yourself saying ...
    "these extra features contain information ..."
    "read the text features, too..."
    "Did you survey the WHOLE page?"
    "What extra information does the page give you?"
Questions that guide comprehension are often linked to text features. Students are instructed to use all of the juicy details from these features to better understand the story. This, again, is an early, and fairly explicit way to teach comprehension.

Nonfiction texts are usually high interest for young readers. Animals, insects, weather, natural disasters, space, cars, sports - you see what I'm getting at. Interest in the text makes comprehension much easier AND students will willingly reread, practicing close reading strategies. Rereading is, of course, a cornerstone to deeper understanding and comprehension instruction.

Nonfiction also allows for meaningful connections. Many times, students may come with prior knowledge or a partial understanding for nonfiction topics. Think about weather ... students usually have some knowledge of sun, rain, snow, etc, - this allows comprehension to be easier. Students can think back to what they know or have experienced. This is a wonderful asset to teaching comprehension.
AND, if prior knowledge is not there, nonfiction topics allow teachers to build that schema with field trips, videos, photographs, artifacts, games, activities, music and much more.

So ... is nonfiction text an easier choice for teaching beginning comprehension skills?
What's your thought?

Some great nonfiction resources I use:

      Close Reading                         Informational Text                                   
 Close Reading                                         


Monday, April 14, 2014

Analyze This

Ever tried teaching a skill that has 5 or more steps?
Have you had to teach your students basic "life skills" and "daily living tasks?"
Have you thought to yourself "How am I ever going to teach him/her this?"

Well . . . maybe you should try a TASK ANALYSIS.

I haven't blogged lately, but am planning to get back in the swing of things with a few posts about the basics. In special education, a task analysis is a basic procedure that is used to teach skills that have many steps or NEED to be broken down into many steps. Lots of times, this becomes am obvious strategy when you're teaching a life skill.

So that we are all on the same page, a life skill is something you need for basic, day-to-day activities. They can include personal/social skills, cooking skills, dressing and grooming skills, work/vocational skills, or functional academic skills. These are the skills that allow a person to independently manage his/her needs. Many children learn these skills as they grow and develop and we often don't realize that these skills were "taught." For a student with a disability, these life skills may need to be re-taught, routinely practiced, taught a different way (modified), taught with supports or taught with adaptive devices and equipment.
The students I teach need these skills as much as they need academic skills and sometimes, they need these skills before we get to "academic" skills.

How do you teach a student who can't read how to cook?
How do you teach a student who has limited communication skills, weak fine motor skills, physical limitations and any other disabling condition?

One strategy is a task analysis.
  **the breaking down of a skills into smaller, more manageable steps in order to teach a skill
  **as one step is mastered, the student becomes more independent with preforming the task

When teaching bathroom skills, I often use this strategy. I have broken down many grooming skills so that I can assess my student's functioning level, determine the skills that need taught and create a support profile that will allow for the most independence and least intrusive prompting.

Here's an example:
The skills of brushing your teeth is broken down into 19 steps. When I started to break skills down like this, it was eye opening to me! When you think about all the skills required to complete this one task, you begin to realize how complex many "life skills" truly are and how we take for granted all the tiny little steps, like unscrewing a cap.
My first step is getting a baseline. I assess my student's current ability and record the level of prompting that is required for each step.
Then I assess the data to determine where I should start teaching. Some students will be very strong with parts of the task, other students will need support the entire time. When you look at the data, determine if it makes sense to teach from step 1 and proceed in order. It may make sense to support a student from the beginning and teach the last step, working backward. I will make these decisions based on the student's ability, what skills he/she already possesses, where motivation will be the greatest, and other student specific factors. For more information, look into "chaining" and "shaping" behaviors.
From there, I start teaching! Think about the underlying skill a student needs to perform the step you are addressing. Fine motor skills are key for teeth brushing. Working on the specific fine motor skill of grasping a toothbrush is great, but you can incorporate this grasp pattern in many activities across the day.

Not to get off on a tangent, but when I am teaching a skill, I try very hard to teach it with many materials, across various activities and with varying adults. Many students will struggle with generalizing of skills, so I try to plan ahead and embed opportunities to generalize from the start. This is my philosophy - it may not be the best for all kids BUT I have found great success. It may take a little longer to master a skill or step when you embed generalizing from the start, but you will not have to teach generalizing of a mastered skill at the end.

Okay, back to the brushing teeth stuff . . . as you are teaching the steps of this bigger task (teeth brushing), you should be completing the whole task everyday.
You should allow the student to complete the steps he/she can independently ...
You should work on the step that is the current focus - pushing the student to grow and gain this skill ...
You should provide the necessary supports/prompts to complete the remaining steps of the task so that the task gets completed each time ...

You need to take frequent data to assess growth (skill development), determine the next teaching step, or to re-evaluate the teaching method. I require data 2x per week. My staff and I will complete the task everyday but we only record data 2 times per week.

Please Note
**When we assess a student on a task, we also need to assess the environment. Please think about this!
If a student is unable to screw the toothpaste cap off - should we take the time to teach this fine motor skill or should we have the student use toothpaste in a flip cap?
If a student can follow a visual picture schedule for teeth brushing then that support should be provided - it does not make the student less independent. If the student can complete the task without an adult and a picture schedule is hanging as a reminder or cue - isn't that student still brushing his/her teeth?
We often think we need to teach the child every little detail . . . but what will accomplish the end result faster? Should we modify the environment to cultivate success or should we be rigid and require kids to do it "our way?"
I often ask myself - "What will make the most sense for this kid?" Then, I fine tune things to him/her - keeping in mind family supports, financial supports, skill attainment patterns, motivation, etc,

Here are some task analysis forms I have created:
Teeth Brushing
Ordering Food
Using Microwave

Here are some online resources:
Life Skills Task Sheets
Autism Beacon Life Skill Planner
Behavior Advisor
Autism Speaks

Monday, February 17, 2014

Concept Confession - Marian Anderson

Have you heard of Marian Anderson?

I didn't know much about her, but I had noticed the book, When Marian Sang, in our school book room. I saw an award on the cover . . . and that always draws me in. It's black history month and I wanted to expose my students to more biographies, soooooo here we are :)

This is Marian Anderson. She overcame many obstacles to follow her dream of becoming an opera singer. The video shows Marian singing at the Lincoln Memorial, after being denied the right to perform at Constitution Hall by DAR (Daughter's of the American  Revolution) because of the color of her skin. She was supported by many, including, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. Her story is one that has and will continue to inspire and encourage.

I created this packet to use for guided reading and it lends itself to a great close reading activity.
Teacher instructions are included, but the pages are pretty easy to understand. I wanted to start with some basic level comprehension - for the first reading. 


After some discussion of the book and further discussion of the time period -students can dig a little deeper and establish another purpose for reading.

For a third reading, I threw in some review skills - you can never review figurative language enough. It can always be tricky to understand and interpret. I also wanted my students to extend this book beyond Marian's story and connect it to themselves. 

This book was written by Pam Munoz Ryan and illustrated by Brian Selznick. It's a great read and a wonderful way to connect history, character building and language arts into one lesson. 

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Concept Confessions - Tacky & the Winter Games

Three snow days later . . . and I have been able to get a lot of things organized and cleaned up!

One of the things I spent time on, was an Olympic activity. Tacky is a infamous elementary character that many kids are familiar with and love to read about. This story, Tacky and the Winter Games, brings the Olympics into the discussion. I have been wanting to create some adapted reading materials to demonstrate comprehension for my students with multiple or significant disabilities. This is my attempt with a traditional trade book - as I have created some supplemental materials for content specific learning and I have created my own text or used resources like TarHeel Reader or Boardmaker Share.

Anyway, here is peek at Tacky and the resources that compliment the book . . .

So, at the beginning of the story, the penguins are training and preparing for the games
... and as you can see, Tacky is always up to something a little different!

Team Nice Icy Land marches at the opening ceremonies and the Olympic torch is lit. 
The games begin ...
Tacky gets in a little trouble . . . 
    and his team struggles to find a way to keep Tacky in line and show their skills.

By the end of the book, you can imagine that somehow, Team Nice Icy Land gets things to work and they are able to compete with the HELP of Tacky!

Check out the materials I made to go with this . . . you can get your hands on a copy over at TpT for $2.00!

Two versions of this "story element" board, depending on the skill level of the student. The answer cards are the same pictures as the second board - so students would be able to match the pictures.
I work on WHO, WHERE and WHAT questions a lot with my students. I tend to connect it with functional questions - for example, "Who is going to P.E. with you?" 

Again, two versions of this sequencing activity. One version of the picture cards are numbered, so some students will work on placing the cards in order. Other students might work on ordering the pictures by ordering the numbers 1-4. Finally, other students will work on ordering the pictures. Make sure you teach the skill of looking back at the story for this! My students have made such progress by flipping through the book and matching the scene - starting at the beginning and working through the story.

Here is a board to work on topic (main idea) and theme. I have three blanks on the board, but you could offer only two choices, depending of the ability of the student. Theme can be difficult - so this will be a challenge or extension activity for many of my students. 

I am excited to use this and will make changes as I go . . . but wanted to get it out while the Winter Olympics are current!

While I was working on this, I saw lots of advertisements for the iTunes App.
I have not purchased this nor have I looked closely at what it offers, but it did say it reads the story aloud and highlights some key words. 

Monday, January 20, 2014

Animal Adaptations or Bust

My fifth graders are starting work on biomes, ecosystems and animal adaptations. I developed a biome packet for students with significant cognitive disabilities . . . over at TpT. I also created a Farm unit to focus on food chains and animal resources. But the topic of animal adaptations was untouched. I was stretching myself - trying to think how to make this relevant for my two students who require extensive modifications to the curriculum. Every year, I go back and forth with myself . . . one of those philosophical struggles you have with yourself . . . how should I utilize the instructional time I have with these students. Hitting all of the curricular standards spelled out in the Extended Standards does provide these students access to the general education curriculum. It does hold all teachers more accountable to expose ALL students to this rich content and material. It does allow for more opportunities for "inclusive" teaching that is connected to peers' work and topics. BUT . . . I still think life skills need a place. I want to make sure my students can hang up their coats, follow a visual schedule to brush their teeth, find the specials classes in the building and identify their teachers, as well as many other skills not directly listed in the Extended Standards. I can stretch some of the standards to include some of these skills, but you catch my drift . . . I am talking about the basic skills - grooming, bathrooming, eating, greeting, even walking and sitting and requesting . . . the list goes on and on. These real life skills are SOOOOO important.
I am a huge advocate for balance . . . hit all of this and make the teaching meaningful. Embed these basic life skills within the curriculum. And I do believe that most of the time I can manage this . . . with a lot of planning, creating, searching & borrowing and resourcing. But, I get stuck once in awhile ...

Here's some of the wording:
Most Complex: 
LS.35.1a Describe how an animal’s
behavior helps it to survive (e.g., a cat will
stalk its prey so it can go undetected in the
LS.35.2a List two or more survival
behaviors that parents teach their offspring.

Middle Complexity: 
LS.35.1b Given a physical trait, match the
trait to its specific function (e.g., birds have
wings to fly).
LS.35.2b Recognize one survival behavior a
parent teaches his or her offspring.

Least Complex:
LS.35.1c Match animal babies to their
LS.35.2c Identify a survival behavior.

To think through all of this and plan for how to meet each student at his or her learning level, well, it's hard!
I know many of you are out there trying to do it every week  - planning and prepare your lessons, your "stuff" - buying, making, borrowing.
Here are a couple things I made to go with some books I have access to . . . hoping to hit some of these ideas. I am posting them here, hoping some others can get use.


LLI book The Baby Animals - here are some activities for reading the book AND a animal baby/parent match (ABOVE)

Reading A-Z book Legs, Wings & Fins - two sorting activities (identify animals with wings and animals with fins) (ABOVE)

And, for those of you that made it all the way down here . . . I am posting my Farm Fun Unit - Extended Standards free - just download from google docs for a limited time! Hope it helps!

This freebie is no longer available - you can purchase at Teachers Pay Teachers.


Monday, January 6, 2014

Forgot Your Password?!?

Have you forgotten your password? 

Tried passwords you have ALWAYS used in the past? 

Been stuck resetting your password ... over and over?

Do you have WAY TOO MANY passwords to remember? 

Sometime in the past year, I saw these really cute username/password cards that you could put on a ring and keep close at hand . . . but of course I didn't "pin" it or "tweet" it or "bookmark" it or "anything!"  So, now that I want to get organized and use them, I am stuck making my own :( 

Lucky for you, here they are, download these cards, before you pass them by and can't find them again!

You may not need all the exact ones I made, but there are some blanks at the bottom for you to personalize.

Hope they help you stay organized and may there be less resetting of passwords this year!

WARNING: I have to say this, you should not write down some of your personal passwords - banking, credit cards, etc, - I did make some cards for those but BE CAREFUL. Maybe you have a locked cabinet or desk . . . just a friendly reminder.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Clever Conclusions

I am preparing my plans for the return to school after Winter Break . . . 

I really need to hit some inferential comprehension skills in my small group reading, so I am starting with Drawing Conclusions. Now, my students have been exposed to this within their general education classroom, but I really need to break down these higher level thinking skills. So, I am starting with a GAME - high student interest, hands-on practice and ease into the school routine :)

Many of you have probably played this game or some version of it, but I wanted some directions, ideas and student forms all in one place - so here you go - CLEVER CONCLUSIONS!

Direction Page:
Student Form: