Monday, June 22, 2015


I have taken a summer position at a day program for adults with disabilities and I am VERY excited!!  I cannot wait to learn as much as I can about the transition from high school to postsecondary life for my students!  I am praying that I'll be an asset to this organization and the clients that they serve. While listening to their amazing schedule of activities, I began to take a look at my own class program and activities. One major question is still swirling in my mind: how much attention should I pay to what is "age-appropriate"?

Age-appropriate is defined, by my good friend Google (from Oxford Dictionaries), as "suitable for a particular age or age group". Easy enough, right? Most 18-year-olds do not like Spongebob, so it would not be appropriate for my students to enjoy Spongebob. Boom, the end. Except, there are some flaws to this logic:

  1. Some high schoolers do, in fact, like Spongebob.
  2. Who am I to tell an adult what he should/should not like?
  3. What "age" should we be concerned with: physical or cognitive?
I scroll through my Facebook news feed and see what I think would be deemed age-inappropriate things that adults with typical cognition are doing: dressing up in costumes for comic-con and renaissance faires; wearing Disney Princess shirts; participating in role-playing card/dice games; watching kids movies; dedicating entire rooms in their homes to Disney merchandise; reading kids books (okay, maybe that last one is me. haha!). And do you know why they do it? Because it makes them happy. And do you know who stops them? No one. 

On the other hand, we spend so much time and effort trying to help our students fit in with the general population, so I understand that if I have a student who carries around a Larry Boy from Veggie Tales doll, he will look different. I completely agree with helping my students become accepted by the community and know that there are some social norms that need be adhered to. There is, indeed, a time and place for everything. I also understand that I have students who do not want to be associated with being a "baby" and would not appreciate being forced to do "baby" things. This is why I feel that choice is so important within my classroom. I try to include classroom activities for the various interests of my students. To be honest, though, that might include providing materials for a student to color during choice/leisure if that's what she appreciates (and the coloring book that she purchased for herself on a community outing just might have been Dora the Explorer). I feel a little biased and definitely confused, so I honestly ask: is this wrong? Should I encourage my students to participate only in age-appropriate activities? Should I remove from my classroom the puzzles, books, and games that would not be suitable for high schoolers? What are your thoughts??

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Balloon Pop: A learning game

So, if you follow me on Instagram (lovespedteaching), then you saw my post about preparing for a water balloon sight word game for ESY (Extended School Year/summer school). I didn't invent this wheel; it's all over pinterest! I certainly cannot take credit, but I did want to write a post with my thoughts about what worked and some potential adjustments and uses for the future. So, put on your swimsuit and numb your fingers so you can get ready to fill up and tie a ton of water balloons! ;-)

When I posted the above picture, I got a response from The Peachie Speechie who had recently written a blog post about doing this with her own children. Of course, I went right to the post so that I could see what she did and what worked for her! You can read her post here. I LOVE that she includes tips for articulation practice. Seriously, go check it out! I am sure you'll hear me say this often, but I LOVE the Instagram teacher community!!

I filled the water balloons the night before and took them to school in a cooler. Before the students arrived, I wrote letters and words in sidewalk chalk on the outdoor basketball court. I gave each student their own set in their own section of the court. I love this because it was so very easy to differentiate for their learning needs. One sweet kiddo had letter sounds, another had her own list of vocabulary words, and others used Dolch sight words.
I was a little concerned about some of my silly boys choosing to throw the water balloons at one another (I was actually subbing for a different ESY teacher and had only known these kids for one day, but I really thought they would enjoy something different), so we had a discussion about expectations before the activity. They did great! I had brought towels, but didn't even need them!

Initially, my parapro and I handed water balloons to students one at a time and told them a letter/word to throw their balloon to. They had to find the word independently, throw the balloon to hit the word, and then verbal students would say the word back to us. If they struggled with pronunciation, we took a few short seconds to work on various things like tongue placement for letter sounds. This went very quickly, surprisingly, so no one had to wait long in order to have another turn. They were instructed to read the remaining words while waiting. After a short while, we started asking "Which word would you like to hit next?". This made the game a little more difficult, but they seemed to like it better. Hooray for choice! One student struggled with having too many options, so my parapro would give her a choice of two for each. So easy to differentiate!
This was very easy to do with a small group of students, but I think it could work with an even larger group with a few adjustments. So, what could be done differently?

  • Have students write their own sight words. The teacher could provide lists for them, but have them do the writing! Perhaps they could even choose ten words from a list of fifteen in order to increase choice-making.
  • For larger groups, it may be beneficial to separate the balloons into separate grocery bags so that each student gets the same amount. Of course, pops and accidents will happen, so keep extras for those just-in-case moments.
  • It could be done in relay form. Students would be in small groups and lined up in single file. The teacher would call a word and the person in the front of the line would grab a balloon, run up, pop the balloon onto the called-aloud word, and run to the back of their line. The teacher would then give that team their next word and it would go on from there. This could also be differentiated by giving groups different words and selecting words for particular students.
The possibilities for learning opportunities are vast! What types of things could be practiced using balloon pop?
  • Math facts: have answers on the ground and you call out a math problem (or you call out answers and they pop the problem)
  • Sight words (obviously)
  • Vocabulary words: you call out the definition, students pop the word
  • Community helpers: you call their job description/how they help, students pop the community helper name
  • ASL: give a sign and the student pops the corresponding letter/word
  • Nonreaders: laminated pictures taped to the ground
Have you tried balloon pop? What successes/struggles did you have? What types of things did your students practice?

Saturday, June 13, 2015

TWI: Part 1 Freebies!

What do teachers do on summer break? We learn about teaching, of course! ;-) I have been participating in a summer book study with The Kindergarten Smorgasboard, studying the book "Teaching with Intention" by Debbie Miller. We just finished part one and my eyes have been opened! I won't spoil the book for you (because you're looking for it on your Kindle right now, aren't you?!), but I will say that she encourages you to really take a look at what you do and WHY you do it. In this part, she discusses vision and reflection. One of the first things that is suggested is envisioning your "perfect" classroom scene. I struggle pretty seriously with perfectionism, so I prefer to consider my "best" classroom. I created this page for use in envisioning my best classroom and working toward making it a reality:
It's free in my brand-new Teachers Pay Teachers store, so click on the picture and grab it up! Once I determine the vision for my best classroom and the goals and steps that I hope to make it possible, how will I know that I'm making progress?  Hmm...can you tell I'm a special educator? I'm progress monitoring myself!! Haha! Well, I chose to devise a list of questions that I will answer daily in my afternoon reflection time (That's what I'm calling that time after the kids leave when I can barely keep my head off of the table and my brain is completely shot) ;-)  It's not fancy, but I'm planning to print it once and affix it to the inside of a composition book that I will use for reflection. Also included in the download is a worksheet-style with blanks. Click on the picture to enjoy this freebie as well! 

My overarching goal for a very long time has simply been to be a better teacher today than I was yesterday. I really feel like these tools will help me in that venture! 

What are some other teaching-related books that you would recommend? I'd love to expand my professional library!

Friday, June 12, 2015

Dear First Year Teacher Me,

Graduating with my best friend from birth, Carla!

Oh, if I could go back. If I could just speak to this girl with the knowledge and experience that I now have. First, I would tell her to do something with that hair ;-) but then I would share with her a few things about being a special educator.

  • Make a detailed schedule. Put in everything: feedings, changing, toileting, everything. This is the best way to account for all of your staff and be sure that everything gets done.
  • Be flexible. Your plan will not always work every day and that’s okay. Your principal may come observe you while there is a kid having a meltdown. It happens! It doesn’t mean you aren’t good at what you do! If you have a good schedule that works for your class, stick with it. Then, even if the world is blowing up, it is obvious that it’s not common for those random off-schedule occurrences.
  • You are not defined by your students’ achievements or what others think. You may work your rear-end off and have the greatest research-based activities planned, and a student still doesn’t progress as quickly as you think they should. Just step back and try something else. Don’t be afraid to ask teachers who have been there. We’re all just trying to do the best we can with the tools/knowledge that we have so far!
  • You cannot make everyone happy. There will be parents that have an agenda, there will be coworkers who don't appreciate your hard work and/or positivity. Don't waste your time and effort trying to make everyone appreciate who you are. Be you!
  • It is important to maintain balance. Yes, read professional development books on the beach, but also read Jane Eyre. Discuss the newest reading strategies, but also discuss football (Alabama football, of course) ;-)  You will benefit from this balance, as will your students.
  • Your students will steal your heart. When they hurt, you will hurt. When they have an "aha!" moment, you will swell with pride! When they move on from your class, it will be harder than you would imagine. Cherish your moments with them as you change their lives (and they change yours)!
I'd love to hear from you!  If you could go back and speak to first-year-teacher-you, what would you say? 

Thursday, June 11, 2015

About Me!

Hi there!! My name is Jenny and I am a special education teacher for students with moderate to profound intellectual disabilities and autism at a fantastic high school south of Atlanta, GA! I have known since 4th grade that I wanted to teach students with significant disabilities and am so grateful to say that I'm living my dream!

I have been married to an amazingly supportive man for 10 years (10?! How did THAT happen?!?!) and have been teaching for 9 of those years. I grew up in Pensacola, FL and still miss the beach like crazy!!  Thankfully, our families still live there, so we visit often!

Last summer, I found a wonderful community of educators on instragram. If you've not done so, I encourage you to get an account and search #teachersfollowteachers or #iteachsped to get you started! I follow some inspiring teachers, so find me at lovespedteaching and go from there:-) I am starting this blogging journey with much prayer and excitement, hoping that I will be able to connect with even more amazing educators to learn from and share ideas with as we all work to be the best teachers we can be!