Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Executive Functioning #4: Organizing Your Binder (or Desk)

Currently at my school, we have a color-coded binder system in place for all students in sixth through eighth grade. Click here for more information on how to set up a system of your own. For some students, this system isn't enough to stay organized. I sympathize because I am the exact same way. Staying organized is a constant struggle for me and having the appropriate materials isn't enough to actually keep me organized. 

The strategy I am going to show you is called the "material dump" and I should warn you, it is NOT popular with most students. As much as students like the Project Game Plan, they typically dislike the material dump. I think this is a good reminder that struggling with executive functioning is a sensitive issue for many students. Organizing is hard and time consuming and it can be a challenge to be convinced that it's worth it. My steps today include not only how a student can organize their papers but how you as a teacher can deescalate the stress or frustration a student might feel when asked to organize their binder. Remember, executive functioning deficits are very real and students might be resistant to trying new strategies at first. Be sensitive to this but don't give up!  

Resources: This executive functioning strategy comes to you from a book I really love and have had for years. Go and buy Where's My Stuff?: The Ultimate Teen Organization Guide this very minute! It's written for teenagers and uses catchy slogans and step by step directions. It's a must for any middle or high school learning specialist or general education teacher.   

  • Zipper Binder 
  • Color-coded folders with Avery labels
  • Pencil pouch
  • Table with tons of space
Where: Horseshoe table, any big table in the classroom

  • Full class binder/desk clean-out time (great place to start)
  • Advisory
  • During transition or pack up time
  • Before school
  • After school 
  • Unstructured time
  • Student's choice (you can start here to gain some student buy-in)
How To:
  1. Start with a joke. I like to take students into my office and have them pick out my desk. I tell them that my desk is the messiest one in the room (I have always shared a room with at least two other teachers) and ask them if they can find out my desk. They always can and it makes them laugh. My desk is something else. I tell them that I'm about to teach them an organization strategy that works. I know it works because I struggle with staying organized and it helps me to get my papers together. 
  2. Have the student dump out every single item from the student's binder or desk. Yes, even items that are in folders. I'm also talking about the papers tucked into the back of the binder and those that are wedged in between the rings. EVERYTHING. Dump it. Some students find this hysterical and other students find this a bit nerve racking. Let them know that you'll be organizing this together and you won't let them misplace or lose any of their work.  
  3. Start sorting papers into different piles. The first time you do this together, I like to take a sticky note and write the name of each pile and stick it somewhere on the table. Students will place the papers below the sticky note. The categories I use are the same as the titles on their folders. These typically are: Reading, Writing, Math, Science, Social Studies, Take Home. I have the student bring a recycling bin over to the table, as well.
  4. Have the student go through every single paper one at a time. Students should decide what category the paper goes in and if it's worth keeping. If it isn't, it goes in the recycling bin.
  5. With some students, they may need explicit instruction on what an item that should be kept looks like. An item should be kept if you say YES to one of the following questions:
    • Are you working on this in class right now?
    • Is it homework?
    • Do you need to bring it home and show your parents?
    • Is it a class note (some ways to tell are that notes will be typed, have vocabulary words, or are on a colorful sheet of paper)? I like to keep notes because this is information a student might need to come back to in order to complete a project or study for an assessment.
  6. Once everything is sorted into the correct pile, papers can be put back into folders. Everything under the "reading" sticky goes into the "reading" folder, etc., etc. 

Next Level Ideas:

1. Independence. Have the student complete the process independently and check in only when they are finished creating their piles. 
2. Reflect. Before organizing their work, give the student time to reflect.
  • How does your binder look this week?
  • What worked? What should you continue doing?
  • What held you back? What can you do to complete your goal?
  • Make a plan. What should you do next to make sure you can always find your work? 
3. Fade out supports. Once the student has become more independent with sorting their papers and putting them back into folders, provide them with the time to do this and have them clean out their binders independently.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Executive Functioning #3: Pencils

Picture this: It's the start of class and you are introducing your new lesson. You look great, your lesson matches perfectly with your objective, and your instruction is interactive, collaborative, and darn right perfect. You are feeling good, gosh darn it. Standing in front of your class of eager, bright eyed children you explain the agenda for the day. Midway through instructions you hear the distinct sound of whispers and feet thudding against the floor. Out of the corner of your eye, you see a student standing over another student's desk. They appear to be having a serious conversation. "What's going on, young learner?" You ask. The learner looks up at you and sighs, "I need a pencil."

Sound familiar? Many teachers struggle with the management of pencils. This can be frustrating and time consuming. If students are trying to find a pencil during class, they miss important instruction. If they talk to their peers about borrowing a pencil, those students miss instruction. If they borrow pencils from you, you could lose dozens of pencils. If you implement a policy where students can't borrow a writing utensil, that student loses instruction. If you implement a policy where a student is expected to use a crayon or give you a shoe, they are unable to do quality work and risk public embarrassment. Worst of all, if you do put a management system in place you end up spending your limited time as a teacher counting and dealing with pencils of all things. There just isn't enough time in the day to care that deeply about pencils! So what's a teacher to do?

My solution is three-fold: Create an easy to implement pencil management system, teach the student self-advocacy skills, teach the student material management skills.

1. Create an easy to implement pencil management system

The best pencil management system that I found was from some clever teachers that buy washi tape (Who knew that's what it was called? Man, there's a name for everything!) and put it on the top of a pencil like this. I like it because it's visual, cheap, and takes very little time. The example pencils that I made below took me all of 10 seconds to put together. It's an easy way for students to remember that the pencil belongs to you. Do this with 50 pencils, stick them in a bucket in an easy to access place in the classroom, introduce the bucket to the students, let them know that they can take a pencil if they need it, ask them to return it when they are done, and then forget about bucket. Don't worry about it. Refill it when it gets low but that's it.

Students will accidentally take your pencil with them to their next class. They might even lose it in the shuffle from one subject to the next. Don't spend your time policing pencils. It will become exhausting and honestly it's not worth it. Check out this post that I read a few months ago. The teacher, Mr. Donohue argues that you should give a student a pencil every time that they ask for it and not make it a big deal. He explains that children learn best in a "psychologically safe environment" and that putting undo focus on the student's pencil usage can be humiliating and is not beneficial for the classroom community or the individual student's learning. I agree.

2. Teach the student self-advocacy skills

Now that we have wasi tape on a bunch of pencils, we have a class wide solution to That Pesky Pencil Problem. As a teacher, the next thing I'd think about are the students that need more support. Most students will be able to take pencils and return them without any prompting or further instruction. However, there will still be a few students that will continue to ask their classmates for a pencil or sit without a writing utensil until you notice and ask them what the deal is. These students will benefit from learning self advocacy skills. You can do this by creating visuals, like a giant sign that says, "Need a pencil? Go here!" with an arrow pointing to the pencil bucket. You can also also help the student to problem solve by saying, "Looks like you are missing something that you will need to complete this activity. What are you missing? How can you solve this problem?"

3. Teach the student material management skills

Teaching material management can be done in many different ways. You can implement a self management checklist system. You can also give a student two pencils at the beginning of each week, give them time to put the pencils into their pencil pouch, and tell them that their goal is to hold onto these two pencils for five days. This gives them time to put their pencils in the same location each week and practice material management. You can use a reinforcer if they make it with two pencils until the end of the week. As students become better and better with managing materials, you should fade out supports by decreasing the reinforcer or the number of pencils you give each week. If the student loses their two pencils, they can borrow one of your pencils with the wasi tape.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Executive Functioning Strategy #2: Time Management and Tracker

Question: How do you teach time management and time awareness to students that struggle with completing (or even starting) work in a timely manner? 

Resources: This executive functioning strategy comes to you from a great PD I had a few years ago from Sarah Ward of Cognitive Solutions. Check out their great PDF on teaching time awareness here

Where: At the student's desk

When: During class, group work, independent work, any time

  • Analogue clock with a glass face and metal lens (I bought the Cognitive Solutions clock here but it looks like they're all sold out. The clocks need to have a glass face in order for you to use dry erase markers on them. They also need a metal frame so that you can put magnets on them. I found a nice one here for $18.99. Not bad!)
  • 1 or 2 dry erase markers
  • Colored magnets (Go here or here
How To:
  1. Identify the current time on the analogue clock.
  2. Put a magnet next to the current minute hand. 
  3. Draw a line from the center to the current minute hand. 
  4. Put another magnet on the ending time.
  5.  Draw a line from the center to where the minute hand will be at the ending time. 
  6. Shade in the time between the two magnets. This is the amount of time the student will be working on the assignment. 
Next Level Ideas:

1. Task analysis. Break up the assignment into smaller chunks. Draw a line between each of those smaller steps. 
Here is a student working on a math assignment. The clock is broken up by the number or problems. 
I promise this picture isn't so blurry and terrible when it's zoomed out. Here is a seriously hard to see zoom in of a student's analogue clock. You can see that #2 started at 10 after and was slotted to end at 20 after.
2. Reflect. After the student reaches each line, take time to reflect with the student about how it went.
  • Did you complete the step/assignment in the time given?
  • If yes, what worked? What should you continue doing?
  • If no, what held you back? What can you do to complete your goal?
  • Make a plan. What should you do next? 
3. Fade out supports. Once the student has become more independent with reflecting on and tracking time, provide them with the materials and have them set up the clock independently.   

4. Plan for break time. Remember, this is hard (and sometimes exhausting) work. Just like training for a marathon, students need to build up their endurance.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Executive Functioning Strategy #1: Breaking Up Long Term Projects

Question: How do you help students that struggle with completing projects on time? What strategies can we use to teach students how to read project directions and plan for its completion?

Resources: The Rush NeuroBehavioral Center has this amazing PD on executive functioning that changed my entire perspective and understanding of teaching problem solving, planning, organizing, and self regulation. This presentation from Lauren Hough and the Nest Project does a wonderful job of explaining what executive functioning is and providing strategies.  

I'm going to start with the student favorite. I give you: The Project Game Plan! 

  • Project directions

If I am not modifying the content or expectations of the project, I try not to modify too much of the text. The reality is that students see assignments and projects that look like this all of the time. Instead of changing the text (giving a student a fish), I prefer to teach them how to use the text and break it down into smaller chunks (teach them how to fish). During the first quarter of the year, I complete the Game Plan alongside the student. I write the Game Plan on a dry erase board while they write it on their sheet of paper. 

Where: Anywhere in the classroom

When: After a project is handed out, during in-class project time, after school, before school

How to:

1. I always start with the Project Title and due date. 
2. We go through and read the project out loud. No underlining. No stopping and discussing.

3. This time we are looking for underlined or bold words. I have the student circle any of the bold or underlined words that they student sees.

4. Now we go back and underline anything that the teacher wrote specifically needs to be included. 

5. We are looking for how the teacher wants this presented (i.e. poster, paper, video).

6. We go back to the Project Game Plan. The first step is always choosing how to present the project. The second step is always collecting the materials. I like to keep it consistent. 

7. We look back at everything we circled and underlined. The first thing we circle is the first step we write down. Have students do this with a pencil or use a sticky note because picking the order takes the most time. Erasing and moving around sticky notes is perfectly fine. 
Start at the top and go down. 

Now we fill in the due dates for each.

It's okay to have more than one step due on the same day. It might be the only way to get everything done in time. 

My second page is a list of materials needed.

This strategy takes awhile to do (set aside 20 minutes or so) but it takes away so much anxiety and confusion surrounding the project. When I first teach this, I check back with the student every day. I have them take out their game plan and show it to me. They cross off each step as they complete it. Sometimes they miss a day and we change the due date to a day later. Sometimes they had more time than they thought and they completed the next day's steps, as well.

Below are some real letters written by former students about their love of the Project Game Plan. 


Tuesday, July 7, 2015

The Best Inclusive Things at the Moment

Best Website: I just discovered Julie Causton's website. Here is the list of articles she has written about inclusion, lesson plan, parent advocacy, research, behavior, Autism, etc., etc., etc. It is a goldmine of meaningful articles and information. My favorite article from the list is this one.

Best Blog: Think Inclusive has articles, opinion pieces, and links to other great content. I could spend hours here. Check out my favorite post on the 100 top inclusive links. It's solid.

Best Video: Dan Habib's short videos are incredible. I think all of his public videos would add to any PD given. My favorite Vimeo video of his will always be Thaysa but this new clip about Nathaniel Orellana packs a lot of great information in 76 seconds. Also I have to include this one with Keith Jones. He's just so eloquent and fantastic.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Accommodation and Modification Checklist

Question: As an Inclusion Facilitator, I am often asked about modifying and accommodating work to meet individual student needs.

Whenever this happens, I immediately ask for samples of student work. Modifying and accommodating for students is so individualized in nature that the A/M section on the student's IEP isn't enough information to tell me what the student needs. The reality is that what works for one student in one class with one set of co-teachers (or one teacher) might not work for another student in the same grade in a different classroom. The IEP is the most individualized document in town and we need to remember the specific student every step of the way.  I look at the following:

  • Student IEP goals
  • Student IEP modifications and accommodations
  • Student strengths
  • General education teacher and learning specialist personalities and teaching style
  • Lesson and unit plans
  • Specific activities
  • Student work

My A/M Checklist was created to make choosing appropriate and successful accommodations and modifications easier for teachers. This can be used across all grades!

Before you dig into it, please remember that this list of accommodations and mods is not complete. If you go through and say, "Hey I want to have a student create a comic strip to show their understanding of matter." Great! Coolio! Do it! Don't let my list limit you. The goal is to give you a place to start. The best part of our job is being creative and being allowed to think outside of the box. There is nothing more satisfying than finding the perfect combination between Common Core standards and student supports. Enjoy this checklist and use it often but don't ever let it limit you.