Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Teaching Content through Pocketbooks in the Special Needs Classroom

Today I’m writing to all the Double Dose of Learning fans as a guest blogger! My name is Katie and I’m a new special education teacher in Buffalo, NY. About six weeks after graduating college I was offered a summer school position at a private agency that caters to students with emotional disturbances. I have to be honest and say that the ED kiddos were not my first pick. In the weeks leading up to the first day of summer school I struggled SO MUCH with creating lesson plans that were engaging yet simple enough for my crowd. It was a known fact that my students needed routine and structure, not just in the day-to-day classroom happenings, but in the delivery of the content as well.

Enter my two teaching angels sent from heaven—Kelly and Stephanie of Double Dose of Learning :)  Luckily I had the benefit of knowing Stephanie for quite some time, and through her I met Kelly. They so graciously provided me a six-week science unit that would last me the duration of summer school (at this point my nerves were starting to calm down a bit). I downloaded the Discovering: Extreme Weather Mega Bundle and quickly got to work! The easy to use week-long chapters would be simple to prep and implement.
The Extreme Weather unit devotes one week to each super storm but follows the same routine:
·        Day 1- Introduce storm, preview PowerPoint, create anchor chart with whole group
·        Day 2- Vocabulary flipbook
·        Day 3- Research booklets
·        Day 4- SmartArt writing activity
·        Day 5- Final writing piece
By the second week my students were falling into routine and I had to spend less time discussing the procedure and more time discussing the super storm of the week!

Student Engagement

 Hurricane Unit Anchor Chart
Hurricane Unit Anchor Chart
Let’s talk about student engagement because let’s face it, my ED class needs engaging lessons to keep behaviors to a minimum (I quickly learned that one out!). On Day 1 I always asked for volunteers in helping me complete the anchor chart. Students loved coming up to the easel to glue one a picture or write a fact. Who knew something so simple would hold their attention?

On Day 2, students loved guessing the correct definition of a vocabulary word. I gave our school’s PBIS bucks to the student that came the closest. 
On Day 3, I pulled small groups based on the students’ academic level. Some of my high-fliers could handle the independent work of the research packet while others needed me to complete it along with them. 

Day 4 was my students’ favorite day because there were some arts and crafts involved. We used the graphic organizer in the morning to write four facts about the storm of the week. After we edited our work, we wrote our final draft on our SmartArt projects. My students loved having coloring contests! Again, I used PBIS bucks to reward the winner.

Earthquake Unit Smart Art
On Day 5 we wrote our writing pieces which included an introduction and a closing statement. To prepare for this writing assignment, we watched a news report of a famous storm from that week so we had more information. If we were learning about hurricanes, we watched a news report about Hurricane Katrina or Hurricane Sandy. Each day my students were engaged for a whole 30-minute science lesson. My school tracks their behaviors for each period of the day and besides free time and lunch, my students always had the best behavior during our science period!

Helpful Hints

Because we live in Buffalo, many of my students didn’t have background knowledge of earthquakes, wildfires, tsunamis, tornadoes, and hurricanes, except for the information they heard on the news. They did, however, have a WEALTH of knowledge to share about blizzards :) #Buffalove. Our class was constantly making connections to our own experiences, which I loved! To build their knowledge fund on unfamiliar super storms, I incorporated a handful of videos that were used after our work was completed. I also shared with them news stories and news videos of famous storms each Friday as part of our Fun Friday. 
My students also needed to review the PowerPoint each day in order to be successful in their Friday writing piece. Towards the end of the week I would call different students up to board to present one of the slides. My kids loved being the teacher!
Sometimes my students were confused with the way I gave instructions. Completing the vocabulary flipbook was always a challenge for my students because I wrote everything on the whiteboard in one color. One day I decided to write the vocabulary words in black and write the definitions in blue (or whatever color dry erase marker I could quickly grab). Before giving each student a flipbook I would say “Now we are going to write the definitions for each vocabulary word. The definitions are the words in blue, you need to write the definitions (point to blue definitions) in your flipbook.” Something so simple made my lesson go that much smoother! Some of my students just wanted to be done with their work and would glue the pictures anywhere they could, which led me to peel off the paper and feel frustrated. I made it a rule that students needed to raise their hand after placing their pictures in each spot before receiving a glue stick. Another simple modification that helped my students succeed without teacher frustration :)
Each morning my students completed a morning a journal and morning work. By Wednesday both students and teacher were getting tired of such academic work in our 98 degree classroom. As a small incentive for completing academic morning work Monday-Wednesday, I started giving the supplementary worksheets in the Discovering: Extreme Weather Unit as morning work. My class completed the ABC Word Order worksheet on Thursdays and the word search on Fridays.

Wow, so that was a lot of helpful hints. Let’s review…
     Build background knowledge using videos, read alouds, and student connections.
    Have students be the teacher when reviewing the PowerPoint.     Write vocabulary words on the white board but write the definitions in a different color (trust me, you’ll be grateful).
·        Check student picture placement before providing them with gluesticks.
·       Use the supplementary worksheets as morning work or early finisher work.

Student Success
This is my favorite part! Nothing makes my teacher heart sing louder than usual than students being excited to learn. And I have Double Dose of Learning to thank for that! Some happy moments: At the playground, my students would call me over to where they were rapidly spinning and yell “Ms. Katie, I’m a tornado!”.     During free time a student took it upon himself to take a survey of our class’ favorite super storm
·        My students came up with every excuse in the book begging asking me to take their extreme weather work home early. The look on my students’ faces when they realized they could finally take home their giant book of superstorms on the last day of school was priceless! It certainly made up for all the back-talking they did!
This new teacher is extremely grateful to the ladies behind Double Dose of Learning for helping me survive my first self-contained gig! I’ve found a method of teaching science that really works with my population of kiddos! 

1 comment:

  1. Absolutely loved this unit! Thanks for letting me share my thoughts!! :)