Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Math Lessons At Ash Elementary

Hi, everyone! Today was my first day of doing observations at Ash Elementary School .* I'm sure you're all dying to know how it went!
The class that I'm doing the observations for is a class on how to teach math, so I was mostly there to observe the math lessons. Its a second grade classroom. The somewhat annoying thing about my school is that, although I am majoring in special education and intend to teach special ed, I have barely ever been placed in a special education or with any type of special ed teacher. The closest I have come was being allowed to shadow a resource teacher for two hours one morning. So its a little difficult because, although I am going to be learning and practicing on how to teach a large group of typically developing second graders with a few children with special needs mixed in (and those few usually leave the classroom for reading and math) I will not get much experience in teaching children with special needs. But... oh well!
Great things I observed? The classroom is super organized, with children busy and happy at all moments. There is a lot of moving around the room and talking, instead of the quiet boredom I endured in most of my elementary school classes! The children also get a lot of choices throughout the day. For instance, during "work centers," the kids were able to raise their hands and say which work center they wanted to go to. The teacher kept track on a chart, so eventually throughout the week the kids would have had the chance to do each work center, but it would still be their choice. Different work stations included reading an oversized book with a partner and taking turns using a pointer to point at the words, coloring scarecrows for the bulletin board, playing educational games, using the computer, listening to a book on tape, etc.
Interesting things I observed? The classroom uses Everyday Mathematics, which is supposed to be based on real-life math situations. There is a lot of emphasis on learning math strategies to solve problems. But some of the strategies for solving problems seem more complicated than the problem itself!
For instance, lets say you have the problem 9 + 6. You're supposed to say to yourself, "9 is one less than 10. I know that 10 + 6 = 16, so and one less than 16 is 15, so 9 + 6 = 15."
Okay, maybe that one isn't so bad... but here's another one.
Lets say you have the problem, 4 + 6. You should say to yourself, "I've already memorized that 4+4 is 8, and 6 is 2 more than 4. 10 is 2 more than 8, so 4 + 6 must be 10!"
To me, it just seems like counting would be easier! I always had a horrible time learning math, but I think I would have had more trouble trying to remember all of the strategies, and working the problems out that way, than I would have just counting in my head!
Another thing I noticed, which I have also noticed while observing in other schools before, is that sometimes teachers don't quite know what to do with the behavioral issues of the children with special needs in the class. In the classes I've observed, this one included, there are always two or three children that have special needs, with behavioral issues that come along with them. This may be anything from a child with autism who keeps making random noises or  jumping out of his seat to get a closer look at the fascinating basket of colored paper clips on the teacher's desk (Those things are just begging to be lined up or sorted out!) to a child with ADHD who just keeps fidgetting or blurting things out during circle time, to a child with a developmental delay who just doesn't seem sure of what he's supposed to be doing and so just sits there. There seems to be a lot of training for teachers on how to teach children with various learning needs, plus a lot of the kids with special needs get help from special teachers or staff members during reading and math. But teachers don't seem to have many ideas on how to handle the different behaviors! In another class i observed, the teacher would just get so frustrated and angry with the children who had trouble going with the flow of the classroom. In the class I observed today, the teacher was a little less easily frustrated, but still wasn't sure how to manage certain kids. For instance, one little girl who clearly had special needs kept doing things such as talking out of turn and moving around when she wasn't supposed to. The kids get rewarded for good behavior with tokens, which they can turn in each month for prizes. So this little girl kept getting in trouble and having to give up a token. She lost three tokens in the three hours I was there! The thing that bothered me about this was that 1.) The little girl didn't seem to have much control over moving around and blurting out... she'd just forget, and bounce away. 2.) When she did lose a ticket, it didn't bother her at all... she cheerfully gave up the little piece of paper, so she wasn't really learning anything in the moment. 3.) By the time the students cash in their tickets, and the little girl finds she barely has any, she will long have forgotten those wiggly moments during story time!
Saddest thing I observed? There was one part of the day when the students had to quickly find a partner for an activity. That same little girl walked around asking everyone to be her partner, even grabbing people, but the other children ignored her. Finally the teacher had to assign her someone. :(
Funniest thing I observed? I always love overhearing the conversations of little kids when they think no adults are paying attention. So here are a couple I heard today. During snack time: "What if my mom poisoned my snack today? I might be about to eat a poisonous grape!" During work time; "I think I forgot to wear underwear today. Yep, I'm pretty sure I forgot." LOL!
Thats all I have for today! Feel free to comment if you have any thoughts on Everyday Math, behavior management, or anything else!

Yours truly,
Miss Angel Read.

*Names of all schools, teachers and students have been changed.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Hello, class!

Hello, class! My name is Miss Read.
Well, no, actually it isn't. But for the sake of remaining somewhat anonymous on this blog, you can just call me Miss Read. Thats a good name for a teacher, isn't it?
I have just begun my final semester of college. Next semester I'll be student teaching!
How did it take me this long to become a teacher? Thats kind of a long story. I'll try to give you the Reader's Digest version.
As a kid I had a horrible time in school myself, partially due to my own special needs that went undiagnosed until I was an adult. I was smart (I learned to read at age two, was reading full novels by the age of 6, and had moved onto the classics like To Kill A Mockingbird and Catcher In The Rye by age 11) but I was disorganized, messy, spacey, hated math and science with a passion, and seriously lacked social skills. By the time I was a fifth grader, I spent most of my recess either imprisoned in the classroom finishing homework I'd forgotten to turn in, or sitting out on the blacktop alone reading a book. One of the few bright spots in my life was helping out with the kids from the special education classroom. They were younger than me and had special needs such as Down syndrome and developmental delays. Four in particular, little girls named Abbie, Katie, Liz and Jenny, were my little friends. Every day at lunch recess, they would run up to me, shouting my name, and all hug me at once! Kids made fun of them, too, but they didn’t seem to care. They knew who their friends were, and they just left everyone else alone.
I played with Abbie, Liz and Jenny just about every day. I entertained them and kept them out of trouble, and stuck up for them against other kids. One day I had to deliver some sort of note to their teacher. When I walked into their classroom, their teacher exclaimed, “Oh, look, everyone! Its one of our favorite people!” that was just about the proudest moment of my life!
I spent a lot of time with Abbie, Katie, Liz and Jenny throughout fifth and sixth grades. For a while I got to be a safety patrol, which meant I spent a lot of time on the playground monitoring younger children, and I was known among all the other patrols as the person to go to when they had a problem with one of the kids from the special education class. Those kids gave me a reason for showing up in school! In fact, when I moved on to junior high, I was crestfallen to learn that my new school wouldn't have a special education classroom. (Or recess, for that matter.)

Fast forward many years. I finished highschool and was glad to be out of there, with no plans to go on to college. I remained interested in the area of special education and loved reading books by special ed teachers such as Tory Hayden, but it never occurred to me to pursue it. I drifted around, enjoying my newfound freedom. But of course freedom doesn't last long in the real world, if you have to support yourself! At the age of 19, I got a job as  a "teacher" in a day care center. I loved the children there, but the place it self was miserable. Never send your children to a certain chain day care center with the initials K.C. I could tell you horror stories! But that is for another blog.
I moved onto another day care center, which was focused on helping children from low income families learn and develop as much as possible. I learned to write lesson plans and keep track of children's progress. After that, I worked in a therapeutic day care center for children with special needs who had been kicked out of other day care centers... most of them had serious behavior disorders, but a few had autism. Some of the kids with autism had one-to-one aides who attended school alongside them and helped them, and this gave me the idea to look for a job as a one-to-one aide in a special education school! I soon was hired to be a 1:1 aide for a kindergartener named Tommy.
Tommy was a brilliant, sweet and funny little guy with autism. He was in a self-contained special ed class, but most of the other children in his class had developmental delays and were academically far behind for their age. Tommy could read, write and do math far beyond his grade level. Unfortunately he got frustrated easily and would act out in class. For instance if the teacher tried to make him do an art project and the smell of the paints bothered him, he might go into a rage, scream, hit, throw things, etc. It was very hard for him to calm down once he was upset. By the time I met Tommy, his teachers were walking on eggshells around him. He sat separately from the other children during "centers," walked separately to gym and music with an escort, had a shortened recess time, etc. At the time, I really didn't know too much about autism. I'd met some children with autism at the last day care where I'd worked, so I knew enough to get the job, especially with my experience with children with behavior disorders. As I started working with Tommy, I just took it moment by moment. He was very impulsive, so at first I was by his side at every second. He needed more challenging academic assignments, so I started raiding the school's storage room for new textbooks and workbooks to use with him. I created new behavioral management plans for him, wrote social stories, and tried to bridge the path between him and the other kids. Some days, all I did was chase Tommy through the halls and try to keep him from pulling the fire alarms. Other days, he astounded me with how much he was improving with his social skills. He didn't always reach out and try to play with the other kids. But he'd draw pictures and write stories with them as characters, showing that he was always paying attention to the other kids. Every day he'd greet me with hugs and say, "I love you, Miss Read!" Over three school years, including summer school sessions, Tommy captured my heart. As he became more independent, I was able to work with other kids in the class as well. I no longer had to be one inch away from Tommy but could keep an eye on him from somewhere else in the room.
I was starting to think I might like to be a teacher, but I didn't want to quit my job and leave Tommy. So when Tommy's mother announced that they were moving to another school district, I thought it was fate! It was the perfect chance for me to go to college full time. 
What should have been a quick four years of school stretched into seven. First of all, because of my learning problems, I couldn't go full time every semester. I got straight A's in education-related classes, English classes, speech, wtc, easily. But any science and math stopped me in my tracks. When I had to deal with these classes, I had to reduce m y class load so I'd have more time to focus. Plus, I had a hard time transferring out of the community college. I went to a 4-year state ,university eight hours away from home, but felt terribly isolated and depressed and had to come home. I tried another state school in the city 40 minutes away, but was told by my "advisor" that I should reconsider being a teacher because of my own special needs. Finally I enrolled at a private university fifteen minutes away from my house, and it worked out well. But with each transfer, I lost credit hours and had to retake classes. (Schools often have signature classes that they will only let you take at their school.) So. Seven years!
This is my final semester before student teaching. This semester I also have three observation and field work classes, meaning I actually have to go into schools and help. So I thought, this is a great time to start a blog! If you follow this blog throughout the next year, hopefully you will see me becoming a special education teacher by this time in 2012!
Wish me luck at that. I hope you'll stick around for the ride. 

Yours truly,
Miss Angel Read.