Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Brain Smart Strategies

Welcome to Day 2 of my Disability Awareness Unit!

In Day 1, I exposed my students to different Learning Styles and “Brain Smarts." The following lesson reviews this information, while showing students how to apply the "smarts" to their advantage within the classroom.

Day 2: Brain Smart Strategies 

Objectives (Students will be able to):
·      Review the learning styles and "smarts"
·      Brainstorm, discuss, and determine learning strategies for various "smarts"
·      Within groups, create strategy posters for the top three "smarts" to display

Anticipatory Set:
·      For today’s Quick Work, students are given this worksheet to review the "smarts" in context.
·      To complete this sheet, students are allowed to use their index cards with the "smarts" and symbols from Day 1's activity as a tangible vocabulary bank.
·      When I created this sheet, I purposely made sample sentences that were true to the students discussed in them and actually inserted the kid’s names in the sentences. This made the activity even more engaging and motivating, as the kids were excited to find their name and read about their friends! When Quick Work time was up, we reviewed and discussed the answers. 

1.     On Day 1, we determined via a class tally the top 3 "smarts" of our class. This year, they so happened to be "Number," "Music," and "Body Smart." I divided the kids into 3 groups, with each group representing one of these "smarts."
2.     When in groups, students were instructed to brainstorm on chart paper "Brain Smart" strategies and tools that can make learning easier. As a model, I give the example that a "Body Smart" student may ask to hold a kosh ball in class to release energy. Or a "Number Smart" student may like to always count how many pages they have left to read in order to read at an appropriate pace.
3.     I decided that I really wanted these posters to be displayed in my classroom so that we could refer to them as needed. When groups were finished, I allowed them to type their posters and decorate their final copies.
4.     Students then presented their posters and they were displayed in our room. 

Tip: If possible allow other professionals in your building to attend your lesson and run a group. My Vice Principal, whom was a former Psychology major, did just this. The students loved the interaction, while our VP enjoyed the opportunity to assist students in understanding and helping themselves!

Join me next time for Day 3 of my Disability Awareness Unit: Teaching IEP’s!

Friday, May 25, 2012

Multiple Intelligences

Welcome to Day 1 of my Disability Awareness Unit!

As I mentioned in my introduction post, the purpose of this unit is to help my students understand themselves; their strengths, weaknesses, learning styles, and IEP accommodations and modifications, so that they can become more independent, and better self advocates, beyond the walls of my classroom.

To ease slowly into the more serious lessons and conversations surrounding this subject, Day 1 simply grazes the top of this complex topic through introducing and examining different learning styles and multiple intelligences, or as I call them, “Brain Smarts.”

Below is an overview of my first lesson. (All lessons in this unit were created for a 55-minute class period).

Day 1: Learning Styles/ Multiple Intelligences / Brain Smarts

Objectives (Students will be able to):
·      Identify their own strengths and weaknesses
·      Identify and discuss various “smarts”
·      Listen to the reading, “Brilliant Brain Becomes Brainy!”
·      Identify the “smarts” in context
·      Identify their own personal “smart” or learning style

Anticipatory Set:
As I mentioned before, my class always begins with Quick Work. Students fill out this Strengths and Weaknesses Sheet for Quick Work as they come in the door. Since Quick Work is a fast activity devised to focus students in on the day’s objectives, this simplistic exercise prompts students to begin some basic self-reflection.   

You’ll notice on this sheet that there are already a couple of examples listed provided by me. This is for a few reasons:

1.     To model for students that I want them to write more than one word
2.     To model for students that their lists can vary; they can write about academics as well as any general activities
3.     To encourage students to begin thinking about why they might be good or not as good at something

As students are working, I walk around and remind them of these pointers. I ask students to write at least 3 for each side, but of course they are welcome to write more. When Quick Work time is up, students who are comfortable share their responses, and I record some on my master sheet displayed in front of the class.

Lesson Activities:
1.     Disability Awareness Intro
·      I explain to students that we will be spending the next few days discussing a topic that is “confidential.” We review what confidential means as a class (private, to yourself, not shared)
·      I explain that our topic will be “confidential” because we are talking about our classmates and how we learn. I explain that we’ll discuss what we are good at, what is hard for us, what helps us to do better and improve, and how we can help ourselves to do even better.
2.     Brain Smarts
·      I then discuss that everyone learns in different ways and there are different brain “smarts” you can have.
·      At this time, I pass out my Brain Map Sheet with the 8 Multiple Intelligences listed (Number Smart, Music Smart, Picture Smart, Body Smart, Nature Smart, Word Smart, People Smart, Self Smart). We discuss what theses "smarts" mean and what kinds of activities students would be good at if they were strong in a particular "smart." Since the labels for the smarts are pretty direct and picture cues are provided, students tend to do well coming up with ideas during this discussion.  
·      Students record some of these activities under the corresponding “smart” (for example, we would write the word “division” under or around “Number Smart”)
·      I love using Picture Books in the classroom as you know, and this one is perfect for this lesson! What I like about this book is it describes the “smarts” in context via experiences of the main character while giving the reader time to guess what “smart “is being described.   
·      Before the read aloud begins, students are given 8 index cards. On each card the “smart” is written and the icon that represents it. As I am reading the book, students hold up the correct index card for what "smart" they think the book is describing before it is revealed.  

4.     Class Tally
·      After the reading, students circle or shade the section of the brain that they identify with most.
·      We then take a class tally on the board and record the top 3 “smarts” of our class

Click here to print posters of the 8 multiple intelligences from Brilliant Brain Becomes Brainy! 

And don’t forget to check back for the continuation of this lesson into Day 2 of my Disability Awareness Unit: Brain Smart Strategies!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Prepare Them to Fly

If there is one thing you should know about me if you don’t already, it’s that I love teaching Special Education. I could give you a long list of reasons why, but if I could sum it up in one simple statement, it would be this:

Special Education students need an advocate; they need someone to support them, someone to believe in them, and someone to prove to them that they can achieve their goals and be successful. And I love to be this person.  

Every year when my kids enter my classroom in September, they are my students, but I consider them my children. I work hard for them, I look out for them, I invest in them, and I love them. Even the ones who make me want to physically tear my hair out some days. And every year in June, I find myself wanting to stay with them or worrying about them as they transition into 7th grade.  But the reality is, they have to move on, and so do I.

I started realizing that instead of sulking or worrying each summer, my time would be better spent if I felt as though I had given my students the necessary skills to move on without me.

So, I came up with a new unit to introduce to my kids, one that was previously not in place in my building.

A unit entitled: Disability Awareness

The goal is simple: To teach students about themselves. Because for students to be motivated to do well, they need to have some control over their learning. If my students could understand their disability, their strengths, their weaknesses, their learning styles, their IEP accommodations and modifications, then they could become more independent, and better self-advocates. Without me standing in their corner.

But I have to admit, I was apprehensive about this unit. Because I notice one common theme every year in my 6th graders: Most don’t even know they have a disability.

Why is this?  Simply because no one has told them. Either adults think they may be too young for the conversation, or they don't know how to have the conversation with them.

Do I think it’s important for students to know their labeled disability? Absolutely not. But they do need to know what their disability means to them. Particularly for my students in their 6th grade year, and here’s why:

·      Middle School Changes Provided Services
Before 6th grade, most of the services my students received were pretty “incognito” if you will. Many were in Co-Taught classrooms all year, where it became the norm to have multiple professionals pushing into the class and pulling students into various groups. And classrooms are working in isolation so to speak. But in 6th grade, students rotate between classes and different schedules, making it more obvious as to who goes where and for what purpose.

·      Accommodations Become More Obvious
Some students can have the test read to them, some cannot. Some can use calculators, some cannot. And as students start noticing, you hear the dreaded, “That’s so unfair,” as students assume there is some sort of favoritism going on. And it’s very hard to clarify the real reasons in front of an entire class, especially when you are trying to keep student information private.

·      Middle School Maturity
Middle school becomes much more about socializing, friendships, and fitting in. It’s not very “cool” when a teacher shows up to pull you from class, or sits next to you to offer some help. Some kids are downright resentful of the support they receive. Why? Because they don’t want to stand out, and they don’t understand why it’s happening to them. 

·      CSE Meetings
In my district, students are expected to begin attending their CSE Meetings in 7th grade. So what I like to do in 6th grade, is have them attend the very beginning of the CSE meeting just to introduce themselves, say what they liked about 6th grade, what was a challenge, and then they return to class, avoiding the paperwork of the meeting. I think this prepares them to sit through their entire meeting in 7th grade, but again, this is impossible to do if students do not understand what a CSE Meeting even is.

I have had great success with my Disability Awareness Unit in the past few years, despite my apprehension. I found that students, parents, and administration were particularly grateful and impressed with the results. And I feel that now is the perfect time to share, as the end of the year is approaching.

Now that you have the background, Friday’s post will be Part 1 of a 4 post series of my Disability Awareness Unit.

So don’t forget to check back on Friday for Day 1: Multiple Intelligences!

Monday, May 21, 2012


I am BEYOND enthusiastic to share with you a new site I recently learned about!

What is Voki?
This site allows you, and your students, to create speaking avatars that you can use in your very own classroom!

Why Voki is so Fantastic
·      It motivates students to participate
·      Improves message comprehension
·      Introduces technology in a fun way
·      Is an effective language tool (with text to speech functionality in over 25 languages)
·      Is simple and easy to use
·      Most importantly = it’s a FREE service!

How does it work?
1.     Sign up for an account
2.     Customize your avatar
·      Select a character
·      Change the look, clothing, and accessories (kids will love this!)
·      Add your own voice message and content via phone, microphone, text to speech, or upload a file
·      Choose a background for your avatar or upload your own
3.     When your avatar is complete, click PUBLISH. You can then play your avatar from the website, email it, or get the code to take the avatar anywhere you want (like to your own blog!)

Click here to get started creating your avatar!
Or for more information on how to create an avatar, watch these tutorials!

How Can I Use these Avatars in my Classroom?
The site is filled with ideas and lesson plans for how to incorporate Voki into your own classroom. This user friendly site even allows you to filter your search by content or by grade level.

View the Voki Lesson Plan Database for ideas!

An Added Bonus:
There is also a Voki Classroom that you can purchase for an annual fee (they do run pricing specials). Some of the features of Voki Classroom include:
·      Creating and managing class accounts
·      Managing student work
·      Creating and managing your own lessons
·      Providing feedback for students
·      Customizable lesson pages
How I would Use It:
While I haven’t used this in my own classroom just yet, (I was too excited to share it with you first), my mind is already flooded with ideas just thinking about my own students.

1.     Presentations
Students could use the text to speech feature of the avatar to present information. I have a lot of students who are very shy or insecure about speaking in front of others; the avatars would be a great way for the kids to occasionally share their ideas and their work without the added anxiety of presenting in front of the class.
2.     Debates
It seems to be a problem in middle school that when students are asked to score one another based on the quality of their work, they tend to favor their own friends. Assigning students to create avatars to present different opinions for debates or various classroom contests would deter students from voting for their friends and help them to focus on the quality of what they are actually hearing.
3.     Student / Parent Communication
Mrs. Zimmerman, an elementary school teacher in Spencerport, NY, recently had her students use Voki to send mother’s day messages to their moms. The students created avatars and recorded a special message to their parent that was easily sent via email. Parents could click the link and watch and listen to the recorded message. I’m sure you can imagine how surprised and honored these mothers were!

I’m sure you’ll want to take the time to peruse the site yourself, but let me direct you to a few more key features:

Check out:
Voki’s Own Blog
Browse Voki Newsletters
Visit the Teacher’s Corner to find answers and tips or see how others are using Voki 

Check out my own personal Motivating Minds Avatar below!