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Phonics Based Spelling for Struggling Students and Beginning Readers

This approach to teaching reading and spelling has been a game changer for my students who struggle with phonics, letter and sound identification, blending and segmenting. It also teaches sentence writing, capitalization and punctuation.

There are 8 main components to a lesson. Each lesson typically takes me 30-35 minutes if done with fidelity. I have definitely done "express" versions of them depending on the group of students I have. If I am teaching whole group, it tends to take the whole 30-35 minutes. If I am teaching small group, I can get a lesson done in about 20-25 minutes. I've had the most success using dry erase boards in place of pencil and paper (but either one works!) I used to use journals or pencil and paper so I had a record of the lessons, but now I prefer dry-erase boards. The kids are motivated by it and it saves a lot of time with erasing when mistakes are made. 

This multi-sensory approach to spelling uses visual learning, auditory learning and hands-on learning. It's very direct and routine for the kids and the more consistent you can be with teaching it, the better results your students will get!

You can see it in action on a Smart/Interwrite board in this video, or scroll down to read through how I teach a lesson

5 Things Every Parent Needs to Hear

In my region we have all of our IEP meetings in the spring and we call it Annual Review season. This varies from district to district, as some districts schedule Annual Reviews on the child's anniversary date as listed on their IEP.

Any special education teacher can tell you, it takes about 6-8 weeks to gather data, meet with parents and draft the IEP. By the time the Committee on Special Education (CSE) meets, most of the child's Individualized Education Plan (IEP) has already been discussed and agreed upon between the parents and the teacher. This can be a really stressful time of year for special education teachers but also a very rewarding time. The work load of writing IEPs is overwhelming and there is little time compensation offered in comparison to how much time one IEP actually takes to draft. However, it can be rewarding to meet with parents and discuss their child's strengths and weaknesses.

If you're just starting out in the world of special education (or any education), you will quickly learn that special education can sometimes feel like 80% working with parents and 20% working with students. I remember one day talking to a general education teacher friend of mine and discovering that it wasn't normal for her to communicate with parents daily. I don't know life any other way. Parents of students with disabilities are unique because their family is facing challenges that some of us will never experience. And they know that. They know that you may say you understand but you really don't because you've never walked in their shoes. Many of them have faced these challenges since the day their child was born.

I've worked with families who have been treated poorly by former schools, who have worried about their child's well-being and gone to great lengths to ensure that their child is where she belongs. I've worked with parents of non-verbal children who are terrified that their child will be voiceless in the world. I have worked with parents with advocates and parents who speak other languages. I've worked with foster parents, adoptive parents and grandparents. Regardless of the makeup of the family, all of these families have one thing in common: their babies are their whole world. I have a sign on my classroom door that reads Every child in this room is somebody's whole world. It's an important thing to remember when you're feeling burdened by teaching and working with parents. You may see a class, they only see their baby.

A seasoned social worker and dear friend of mine once told me that having a child with a disability can sometimes cause parents to go through many of the same stages as the stages of grief: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance. This wisdom has helped me weather the storm with many parents who are experiencing different stages. I often ask myself "What stage is this parent going through and how can I meet them there and make it better?" We can't always break through that barrier, but sometimes you're the closest person to understanding the child. If you've ever helped a parent reach acceptance, you know how powerful and rewarding it can be. It's like the skies open up and you can see the child's future unfold together.

Working with parents has been associated with the high amount of turnover in special education, but it also is one of the most rewarding aspects of the job. As I reflect on my relationships with parents over the years, these are the five things that I believe it is our duty as special educators to communicate when working with parents.

Everyone makes progress. Not in the same way or in the same day, but everyone makes progress. It can be frustrating in a culture of standardized tests and accountability that you may not be able to show academic leaps and bounds that the rest of the country expects. Special education teachers often look for the little victories. The daily wins. Progress is progress and it doesn't have to be academic. Parents need to hear that their child is improving in some way. They just want to know that you see the good in their child. Find a positive and make it matter, because it does. It does matter that the child used to need 4 reminders to start working and now he only needs 2. That's progress!

Parents need to hear about their child's strengths. What are they good at? What do you love about their child? Are they a good helper? Do they love music? Do they follow directions well? Are they organized? Keep a list of strengths in the child's folder so you can refer to it before you meet with parents. As the school year goes on, add to the list as you notice those strengths and progress. Parents will be grateful to hear that you notice all of the things they are good at.
This can be the toughest part of communicating with parents, but it is crucial. You have to be straightforward and honest with parents about what their child is working on and how they can develop. You might get push back, you might get blamed or you might open up a great conversation about how the child struggles with the same thing at home. If you are truly doing what's best for the child, you are discussing weaknesses and developing a plan to improve together.
This is so important! If parents know you love their child, they will work with you to no end. They will trust you and support you because they know you support them. If you love their child, most likely their child loves you too and the parents know that as well. Be clear with the parent that you care about their child and want to do what's best for him.  I try to make it clear to parents that we are on the same team.
This is the most important of all. Parents have to know you LIKE their child. You may love your students, but you have to make it known that you like your students.
It's not uncommon for me to start a parent phone call by telling a cute story about the child and ending with "I just love her, thank you for sharing her with me." Who doesn't love hearing a cute story about their child?

How do you communicate with parents? What have been your successes and failures when working parents?

Front Row for ELA Articles & Adaptive Math

This year I was introduced to a great website that has quickly become my students' favorite. Front Row is website that allows students to practice ELA, Math and Social Studies skills. My students love it because they earn "piggy coins" for completing assignments and practicing skills. (Side note- the "piggy store" where the kids spend their coins has a 30 second time limit which makes my teacher heart so happy. I hate when my students spend all their time on the incentive!)

I love technology and I love finding new websites that my students can use during independent time. This one impressed me because the format of the ELA articles is aligned with the format of most computer-based testing programs. In New York State we are not far from having all of our state tests in computer-based format. Whether you agree with computer-based testing or not, I feel that it's my job to familiarize my students with multiple forms of reading and writing assignments.

Today I've highlighted some of my favorite features of Front Row but I've only scratched the surface. The best part is, you don't need a school license to enjoy the benefits of Front Row. There is a paid school edition, but the free version is certainly enough to get your kids some extra practice! If you want to skip ahead, I've posted a video at the bottom of this post which walks you through my favorite features!

I mainly use Front Row for is the high-interest ELA articles and written responses. You can filter the ELA articles by reading anchor skills, and assign a different level of the same article to specific students. YES- you read that correctly, people! So my kiddos reading on a 1st grade level can read the same article as their accelerated classmates (are those angels singing?!) You can also assign the article at one level and the written responses at another- allowing your kids who struggle with writing to still read on level.

I LOVE a website that will give my valuable data and help guide my instruction. As a special education teacher, I am always looking for more data to formulate goals. Front Row shares the progress of each student in meeting proficiency for the Common Core anchor skills. 

The groups report is one of my absolute favorite features! It automatically groups my students based on their most recent performance in ELA and math assignments. Although this isn't the only information that I use to group my students, it does provide good supplemental data and is a good starting point when I am planning my leveled groups for guided instruction.

The word study reports show the progress my students have made toward mastering word study skills, spelling patterns and phonics lessons.

Front Row also has great standards-based printables and slideshows to use in your classroom.

7 Survival Habits for the Working Teacher Mom

If you've been reading my blog for a few years, you know I used to be a type-A work-a-holic. Not anymore. Nope. I've changed. Now I am a type-A work-a-holic mom! As I'm reflecting on the past two years of being a working teacher mom, I'm proud to say that I am content. I love going to work in the morning and I love coming home at night.

Last year was rough, I won't lie. I was hanging by a thread on good days. If you walked in my classroom at lunchtime, I was shoveling leftovers in my mouth, while checking my email and pumping. It was not a good look. I was sleep deprived and burned out.

This year has been a tremendous change. Not only did I transfer to a less demanding classroom and cut my commute in half, but I'm finally getting the hang of it (most weeks). I've learned what works for me. I've been fortunate to be surrounded by friends and family who have lived this same struggle and shared wisdom and support along the way. Whether you're expecting your first child or you're currently hanging by a thread, I hope this post finds you motivated to put your family (and your self) first.
Disclosure Statement: This post contains affiliate and sponsored links which means if you click on a product or service, I will receive a small commission. 

A few months back Facebook reminded me that I posted a status three years ago, right before my wedding that stated All I want for Christmas is to get enough sleep. HA. I wish I could go back to that naive girl and smack her for ever thinking she was sleep deprived without kids. I would also tell her to go to sleep now because your well-rested days are numbered.

I used to tell myself lies like "I'm the type of person who only needs 5 hours of sleep" or "The more sleep I get, the more tired I feel". WRONG. The truth is,

Circus Themed 1st Birthday Party

Spring is upon us which is the time of year that I associate with birthdays. All of my siblings and I have March, April and May birthdays and the tradition continues in my own family now. I struggled with choosing a theme for my son's first birthday because let's be honest- first birthday parties are more for the moms and dads! Babies don't really care what color their paper plates are. I perused Pinterest for months leading up to the party, and eventually stumbled upon the Fisher-Price circus themed party decorations. I loved the bright colors and the adorable animals.

Disclosure Statement: This post contains affiliate links.

It was easy to find matching tableware, straws and napkins at Party City and Target. The snacks were easy- I stocked up on kettle corn from BJ's and found the popcorn tubs at Dollar Tree.
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