Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The Classroom Community and Being Kind

The inclusive environment is new to Jahn this year. This means that students are used to seeing their peers leave the classroom for chunks of a time. Some use words like resource, pull out, and special education. Some don't. All know that some students need more help and they get pulled out. Now all of a sudden students who disappeared during math or reading time are back in the room! Now there's a second teacher who teaches lessons! Now work is differentiated!

These changes are wonderful BUT we have to keep in mind that this change can be confusing or uncomfortable for students. Without getting into specifics, teachers have been telling me about language and complaints that they have overheard. Generally, the students are not meaning to be well... mean. They're confused by this new environment and don't have the language or background knowledge to understand the change. Below is a list of my favorite ways to do this:

1. The Bandaid Activity. 

I got this from Paula Kluth's awesome blog years ago. I just saw that she put it back up on her blog and with good reason. The Bandaid Activity was created by a kindergarten teacher but it's perfect for all grades. I used it as a first week ice breaker activity in a fifth grade co-taught classroom for years and years. This year, I did the activity in a sixth grade homeroom and one of the seventh grade teachers did it with her homeroom. Go to this blog to get the scoop on the lesson. Essentially, it's a really interactive and visual way to explain differentiation to students. 

2. Repeat after me: "Fair is what you need."

Students are aware that some peers learn skills really quickly and some peers take more time. We need to be honest about differentiation and student needs. That doesn't mean calling out students and divulging confidential IEP information. It does mean telling students that we all learn differently. Johnny needs glasses to see. If he is the only student who struggles with seeing the board, is it unfair to give him glasses so that he can see the board? Of course not! Johnny needs glasses to see the board. Ms. Snider needs to put scheduled meetings into her phone or she won't remember to show up. Seth needs time to clean out his binder each week. Rachel needs a calculator when solving eighth grade math problems. Fair is what you need. We all need different things. 

Use your language to promote kindness, community, and shared ownership.

"It looks like ____________ is talking. Support your classmate by turning your head towards him and listening while he talks."

"What can you do to help your classmate solve this problem?

"I want you two to take two minutes to figure this out together before asking for my help."

"Check in with a classmate before you check in with me?

"Who in your class can help you with this?"

3. Lessons and Activities on being kind:

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Walking You Through a Co-Taught Lesson

My official job here at Jahn is the Inclusion Facilitator. My role is to support the middle school specifically and the school in general in the switch from what you might call a resource room model to a more inclusive, co-taught, heterogeneous one. This year is much more about supporting and coaching staff. I don't have a case load and I don't have a co-teacher. But I LOVE co-teaching. I absolutely love it! I have been providing supports in Ms. Shultz's social studies class and it's just been the most fun! We co-taught the other day and although it wasn't a particularly fancy or frilly lesson- it was affective. Below is my step by step process for how to think about co-teaching a lesson. Beware- it's pretty gushy!

Step for Co-Teaching According to Julia Snider:

1. Each co-teacher comes to the table with a particular expertise.

Ms. Shultz sent me this video to introduce her early explorers unit. Ms. Shultz came to the table with resources and content knowledge.

I told her that I knew how to teach Cornell Notes and had a handout available (thanks to my awesome former co-teacher, Fred Hackmann). I came to the table with a learning strategy.

2. Teachers have a plan for how they are going to share the stage. 

I stood (well.. sat in Ms. Shultz's comfy chair) by the computer and was going to be in charge of introducing and talking about Cornell Notes.

Ms. Shultz stood by the piece of chart paper and was going to be in charge of making a master example of Cornell Notes.

I asked students to, "Make your paper look like Ms. Shultz's."

3. Teachers collaborate during the lesson. 

Look, this was my first time co-teaching with Ms. Shultz. At the time of the first lesson, I had known her for less than three weeks. It takes time to get to know your co-teacher. The only way you can really know what works is to talk it out. In front of the kids. One of the greatest things we can do as co-teachers is to model to our students how to collaborate, solve problems, and work with one another. I absolutely loved turning to Ms. Shultz and asking her if she has a different way to explain writing a summary or if she has something else to add. Co-teaching is as awesome as it is because it involves actually showing students what working together really looks like. When Ms. Shultz didn't know if I would have students watch the video more than once in order to take notes, she asked me! Out loud! In front of the class! And it was awesome!

4. Differentiation and modifications are implemented.

An important part of co-teaching is making sure that modifications are implemented smoothly. It is important to make sure that differentiated work is presented in a manner that fits within classroom routines. Every student has a Do Now warm up to complete at the beginning of each lesson and an Exit Slip to complete at the end. The structure is universally designed so that every student can share their thinking. Every student is given their Do Now and Exit Slip sheet. Typically this looks like a sheet of paper. In some cases, it's an iPad. We use Co:Writer on an iPad for some students to answer their Do Now and Exit Slips. Their prompts are modified and they share their writing via Dropbox.

Just a quick plug for Co:Writer on the iPad. Students can get Co:Writer after being evaluated for Assistive Technology. However, you can also go onto the App Store on your tablet and purchase a copy for $20.00. It's a bit pricey but it's absolutely worth it. Co:Writer is a word prediction software that helps struggling readers and spellers predict the correct word that they want to spell. It also reads everything aloud and allows students to upload their work to Dropbox. This is a great way to work on IEP goals and keep track of student work. I highly recommend it! 

5. Repeat

Co-teaching can be incredibly satisfying and enjoyable for students and teachers alike. Two students told me today that the social studies class is their favorite class! Talk about what worked, be honest about what didn't, and get ready to try it again. The more you get up and collaborate in front of the students (which is in my opinion what co-teaching is really all about), the more comfortable and confident you will feel. Enjoy! 

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Back to School Night

Clean your tables. Dust your libraries. Put together a powerpoint. It's back to school night! This is my first year at Jahn supporting inclusive classrooms and schooling. Since we've only been here at school for a week and a half, a few of the Learning Specialists mentioned that we should talk about inclusion. They are so right! A huge part of creating a fully inclusive school that celebrates all forms of diversity and unity is to talk about it! Families make up an important part of the inclusive schooling. Inclusion is all about community building and families have so much to do with it.

Our principal, Mr. Herring mentioned inclusion and supporting diverse learners in the classroom during his opening remarks to Jahn families. I created (with the suggestion of my awesome colleagues) a flyer explaining what inclusion is. I emailed every general education teacher and learning specialist that is co-teaching this year and asked them if they wanted a copy. Teachers handed this out along with all the other documents, letters, and information provided.

So here's my tip today: Don't keep inclusion quiet. Talk about it, write about it, share this information with families and students. Inclusion is all about community building so we need to involve the community in our conversations.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

TIP OF THE WEEK: Co-Teaching

Tip of the week: Make a time to plan face to face with your co-teacher at least once a week every week! This is hard and takes a lot of time at the beginning, but will help you build your professional relationship. You can also use this time to bounce ideas off of one another and make solid lesson plans even better, more creative, and student focused!

Here is a link (and some screen shots) to my Prezi on co-teaching in the inclusive school! 

Friday, September 5, 2014

The First Week of School: BINDERS

Happy Friday! Our first week back to school is coming to an end for the Chicago Public Schools. One of my favorite things that we've done this week in middle school is creating and setting up binders for each student. 

As teachers, we spend a LOT of time telling students what not to do. Don't lose this paper. Don't forget to bring materials to class. Don't leave your work in your backpack. Don't leave your homework at home. Creating a color-coded binder system is a great way to teach students what they should do. 

How to create 105 perfectly organized tweens and teens in a few key steps:

1. Purchase 3 ring binders, clear folders with pockets, and a supply pouch for each student. You can get these materials at Office Depot, Staples, or Target. We purchased ours from Office Depot.
  • Zipper Binder: Ours is a Five Star brand 2 inch trapper keeper. It's made to last the hustle and bustle of being a middle schooler. It includes an inside zipper to keep smaller items. 
  • Pencil Pouch: This is where students can keep pencils, pens, highlighters, and their PBIS "Husky Bucks".

Buying these supplies for an entire middle school is not cheap. Some schools are able to provide these supplies free of charge. Others ask for students to purchase these on their own. Another school has parents pay a supply fee and then has the teachers purchase the materials as they see fit. We had a donation to help get our supplies in order. You can also go onto Donor's Choose. 
2. Take the time to set up the binders as a class. Two of our amazing Learning Specialists, Ms. Nguyen and Ms. Cohen put together a powerpoint that clearly went through each step.

3. Get to organizing! Give students time to set up their binders, make theirs look like your example, and help one another out. This initial set up takes a while but IT IS WORTH IT! It took each middle school class about an hour to get everything all together. 

4. It doesn't stop there! Refer to and use this binder in every class, every day, for the rest of the year, for the rest of their time in middle school... heck, for the rest of their schooling career. Make sure students are carrying it in the hallway. Give students time to put materials away in class. Forget about diamonds. These BINDERS are forever! 

Off they go!