Friday, September 30, 2011


The cows are all paying attention to the man talking about them!

I went on a field trip today with the three special education classrooms to Maple View Farm in Orange County, but instead of just going for a picnic and ice cream, we took the whole tour.  The best moment was on the hayride: touring the cow pasture, the housing area for calves, the milking barn, and the newborn calf pen.   

The kids all liked this, but one little boy that I sat with, was especially enthused.  He had been acting up all day, but during the ride, he was pointing to every animal and vocalizing (he had little speech).  I showed him how to sign the two word phrase "love cow"---a big smile came on his impish little face, and then he signed this frequently--every time we passed a group of them.  This was a cool way to do speech therapy!

This was a great trip---lots of animals, an outdoor picnic area, nice folks, and a cup of homemade ice cream at the end.  I appreciate the teachers for setting this up.
Cool llama!   He didn't even spit at us!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Bus Ride --Boardmaker style

When at all possible, I go into classrooms and work with my speech-language kids in that setting.  I use the teacher's materials, the teacher's language (sometimes simplified), and work with groups of kids (not all of them 'mine').  The children stay in the mainstream, are learning from the core curriculum, and generally are more successful than those who are pulled out.

This week, one of my second grade students hit a roadblock.  He didn't grasp the concepts of addition---that is, adding together different numbers to get the same sum (e.g. 3 + 2 is the same as 4 + 1).  This concept was presented to the kids as how many people are on a bus if the top deck had so many people and the bottom deck had another number.  Kids had to manipulate beads on pipe cleaners---and most of the children understood that the pipe cleaners represented the decks on a bus, and the beads represented people.

What the kids typically get for manipulatives (sufficient for most!)
My kids didn't get it--typical kids did.  After a few days of the teachers and assistant trying to explain the concepts, working with the kids individually, and modeling answers, it hit me that the task and materials were a bit too abstract.  I made another set of materials for this second grade teacher--using Boardmaker, Google images, and velcro.  She gave me great input----wanted the colors in the manipulative I made to match the ones she was already using.  So here is the end result of what I made for my kids.......much more concrete.
It's not a work of art, but it's definitely more understandable.  I made a blank white area for the children to write the number sentence using erasable markers.  These manipulatives will make everything more concrete, and easier to understand.  The teacher is excited, and the cool thing is that the other three 2nd grade teachers want the same manipulatives for their struggling kids!  I guess I'll be crafting buses and little people next Monday!  Boardmaker and Google images are a Godsend!

The whole point of this is that, sometimes, modifications need to be made to the materials presented to make the experience a bit more meaningful.  Collaboration with this teacher made it happen.  She's willing to work hard with the kids, but by providing some supplemental materials, maybe she won't have to work too hard, and the kids will comprehend a bit quicker. 

I love making classroom materials, so am eager to see what I can make next week!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Hey God, Are you there?

This is for Paige, my summer school buddy, who passed away yesterday.

"Angels come to visit us, and we only know them when they are
~Author Unknown

Monday, September 26, 2011

Problem Meter

We all have problems--overdue bills, bald tires, oversleeping, bad hair.  Most of us can gauge our reactions to the seriousness of the problem (except perhaps those of us who experience Road Rage!). Bad hair might merit a scowl, while an overdue bill might merit a frantic trip to the bank.  A giant problem such as a bad fall might merit a bit of screaming, calls to 911, and crying.  The point is that most of us can gauge our reactions based on the severity of the problem at hand.    Most of us can, but with some of the children I work with (many on the autism  spectrum), a problem (whether it's a spelling mistake, or a major illness) is always treated as a disaster.  It's hard to function that way----always on edge because so many disasters are always happening.
With one group of kids I see, all very nice, fun children, I've been using Michelle Garcia Winner's curriculum "Think Social". The book provides step-by-step methods for teaching social-cognitive and -communicative skills to students who have these challenges that affect their school and home life.  I started with lesson 1 and am now on the 4th lesson. (I'm trying to follow it as it's written--the author definitely is more knowledgeable about this than I am!)  This week's lesson had a great premise--that kids need to learn to gauge reactions, so we made a 'Problem Meter'--zero is no problem while 10 on the meter is a disaster, such as a trip to the hospital.  We've had many discussions and first practiced ranking problems on the meter such as 'wrong answer on a math paper', to 'throwing up', to 'someone hitting them'.  Today's lesson was in ranking feelings and expressions based on the problem meter. Visuals were from Boardmaker, but any feelings pictures could be used.  The teacher has the 'Problem Meter" now in her classroom, and can use it during moments when the child needs help gauging reactions. I'm hoping this will cut down on needless meltdowns and encourage problem-solving behaviors.

A book that goes nicely with this is Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, by Judith Viorst. We ranked that character's problems too!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Roasted Chicken with Potatoes & Pesto--Gluten Free!

 Last weekend, we had company.  My boy, Ben, and his fiance, Aleah, were over for dinner, along with Aleah's parents.  Her mom is a gourmet cook, and brought as a gift, a jar of homemade pesto.  Tonight, I made a delicious recipe from one of my favorite recipe  
The main course was Roasted Chicken with Potatoes & Pesto.  Click on this link and you'll go directly to the site and the recipe.  I guess I'll be having leftovers tomorrow!  I still have a half a jar of pesto left---I wonder what other recipes I can try?

Ignore the bananas in the background.  They just happened to be on the table.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Book of the week---Actual Size

In my speech sessions, I like to read picture books to the kids, and nonfiction science books are great ways to help improve children's language skills and knowledge of the world around them.  (Science, as you know, is really not emphasized as much these days in elementary school--it's not on the end of grade tests until 5th grade.)  A favorite of mine is the book Actual Size by Steve Jenkins.
  Children love the illustrations: (from the Library School Journal, "In striking torn-and-cut paper collages, Jenkins depicts 18 animals and insects–or a part of their body–in actual size."

Check this out!  This is just one illustration---an actual size eyeball of a Giant Squid!  I like to hold this picture up next to a kid's head---the eye and the head are the same size. The kids get a kick out of that comparison.

Group rules that I teach
In addition to all of the language and vocabulary concepts presented in this book, I also use it to help teach classroom social skills to my verbal kids who are on the autism spectrum.  Typically, for each page, these children want to spew out all the facts they may know about a particular animal or creature. This uninhibited rattling off of minute facts is often disruptive to a group or classroom discussion, so I like to teach the pragmatics of being in a discussion group.  That's where a small written organizer and picture cues come in handy.  The written organizer is in the form of a book-specific list of the animals, with clearly defined spaces as to when the children can raise their hands and offer on-topic remarks or questions. Later, I try to fade out the 'raise your hand' cues, but initially they are needed. 

Part of the "Actual Size" organizer. Kids follow along while I read.

The kids need role playing, and clear instructions to learn the group discussion rules, but after a few months, they know what 'on target' talking means, and how to raise their hand to speak. We use many science picture books to provide the median to teach these skills.  I encourage my teachers to use the same visuals---pictured rules, and book organizers.  A book like Actual Size lends itself to this type of lesson since the language is simple, the topics are clearly defined, and it's interesting to the children.  I love it!  Steve Jenkins has written many books perfect for this type of lesson.  Check out his website!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Salamander Art

What happens when a biology major is also an artist?  You end up with the most artistic flashcards ever!
 At UNC Asheville, Vicki is taking a class where she has to memorize species of salamanders. To help her learn the names, she drew flashcards---if it were me drawing them, they would be stick figures.  Take a look at her creations!

I love the zoom-ins for the toes
She drew all the important wrinkles.
The one on the right has a bit of a personality.
I wish I had half her talent!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

"I've never seen a waterfall........"

If any of you are thinking of mentoring a child, the activities you can do are practically unlimited.  This weekend, we took a jaunt to Asheville and Brevard.  I've actually seen mountains and waterfalls before, but loved sharing this experience with another person who hadn't.

Looking Glass Falls

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Children of Ephesus

First Graders
Actually, this posting is not about ALL the children at my school---just the first grade.  The first grade team, in preparation for open house tonight, asked the kids to create their own realistic likenesses using a collage-type of format. Parents coming in then had to try to match their child's name with the piece of art.  I loved how the children perceived themselves, the details, the colors, the individual touches!

Can you believe the bead work? 

The bleached hair styling!

He looks ready for Wall Street.

The Mohawk!

The bangs!

Love the earrings and hair!
This tradition has continued for several years. Thanks, Gretchen!  We now are making plans for staff to make their own self portraits and have the students guess!  I can't wait!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011


I should have posted videos on YouTube of my twins, except it wasn't invented when they were little! I bet they are counting their blessings!
In this video of unknown twins, from a special education/therapeutic viewpoint, the twin on the left seems a little more coordinated.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Caution, Stop, Up, Mom, Dad

80% of kids at my school learn to read with the regular curriculum---in this case Leveled Guided Reading Fountas and Pernell.

About 15% learn to read using the same curriculum, but a bit more intensive.

The remainder need specialized instruction---very individualized. Tier 3 interventions, often EC support, special curriculum dependent on the child's strengths, sometimes special classrooms, sometimes one-on-one.

In one child's case (my student), he seems to be learning to read and write words that are highly interesting to him---words that appear in elevators, and color words, safety signs, and names of family members. He really doesn't have the verbal ability at this moment to tell people that he is interested in reading. Due to his autism, perhaps everyone assumed he wasn't really ready.  No one knew about his reading skills until his mom discovered that he was spelling his favorite words on his iPad, and asking her how to spell less familiar words.  Wow! 

Today, I went around the school with this little boy, and he read many words and signs he saw in the hallway.  I took pictures and made a special book just for him!  I got goosebumps! 
'Caution' is what he told me.

No problem reading 'stop'!

'Up' was the word
He spelled color words on the iPad, and words such as 'cat' and 'dog'.  What else does he know?  Kids like him challenge my assumptions, and make me rethink everything.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Digital Divide Resolved---Chapel Hill

Chapel Hill is an affluent community.  I live in a house where we have about 2 computers per person, if you count the iPad and MacBook that I carry around from work. We have a scanner, video cameras, and printer.  We have printer paper. We have wireless!    I don't feel as though my home is atypical for my circle of neighbors and friends.  Life is easy for me, and if I had kids still at home, homework would go smoothly. My college twins each have their own laptop, and my grown boys have computers.  They stay in touch!

With mentoring, I've learned that life, technology-wise, is not always so easy.  I can't always email and depend on an answer.  There is no wireless, no printer, no dependable computer. Large families compete for their time on one 8 year old half-working laptop; so I was very happy when a generous neighbor (in response to my email) donated two laptops to Blue Ribbon kids--one for my mentee, and a ThinkPad for another mentee.  Wow!!!   In this day and age, all families need the internet, and these were very nice donations!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Where was I?

I'm seeing this question all over ---where was I on 9/11?    I remember that day very clearly.  It was a terrible day.    At my school, there used to be a room with a television (TV gone now).  On September 11,  people like me (not a classroom teacher), popped in and watched the air strikes, the commentary, and the twin towers fall---again and again.  We didn't tell the kids--the classroom teachers carried on.

It was a truly awful day and time.

Friday, September 9, 2011

New Friends

I made some new best friends today!   It seems to be all of the third grade teachers at Ephesus Elementary!  Maybe they really do like me, but I suspect it's really because the Public School Foundation blessed me with a grant for 4 iPads.  Guess where the iPads are going?  Right on! To the third grade teachers to keep track of all of their intervention data.  (So what if they also play Tap Tap Revenge occasionally!) Personally, I'm at Level 27!  I'm challenging them!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Time Machine

The kids have grown up so fast!   One minute they were preschool, the next they were adults.  I don't feel that much older, until I look at them, and often think wistfully that I'd like to go back and spend a few days with them again when they were little and cuddly.    

I was housecleaning, and found a box of used-up disposable cameras and rolls of film.  Why they were in a box, I don't know.  So, I sent them away to be developed.   I got the pictures back today, and it sent me back to the preschool days for the twins, elementary for the boys. 
Here are a few of my favorites:

 Ben and our first piano, his first year at playing it.  2nd grade here--now 25 years old.
Zach 3rd grade (now 26).  Old computer, when the internet was really new.

My favorite picture---Vicki at about 4 or 5. Now 21.

 Andorra's first hairdresser appointment, and she still remembers how much she hated that haircut.
Twins--at 4; now 21

Ordinary snapshots, but extraordinary in their 'time capsule' effect on me personally. 
Time flies, so enjoy every minute of it!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

New Favorite TV show --The Big Bang Theory

A friend and colleague of mine steered me to a TV show, The Big Bang Theory.  I don't watch much television in general, but this particular sitcom seems to have as its star a young man, Sheldon, who fits the image of a brilliant man with Aspergers.    Since I work with younger versions of this character, and try to teach some of the same skills this guy is lacking, the humor presented hits home.    This is funny!

Here is a part of an episode where Sheldon has created a schema for making a friend.  See for yourself!


I feel that Sheldon actually is a success---he has a great job, has a circle of friends, a nice place to live, and many interests (maybe not shared interests, but interests all the same)  He has the ability to reflect on his behavior and attempt to make changes.  I hope the same for the kids at my school. 

The episode here was real for me.  I have piles of speech therapy materials which all attempt to teach friendship skills.  It's often elusive and difficult to concretely explain. Friendship and conversational skills all require on-the-spot flexibility that this character does not possess.  Sheldon and others like him will struggle, but he's on the right track! At least he's aware he needs to learn.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

iPads and Tornado Warnings

We had horrible weather today.  Torrential periods of rain, 100 percent humidity when not raining, and tornado warnings---two warnings.  At home, when there's a warning, I stay inside, keep my eye on the TV, and that's about it.  In a school with children of all ages, the teacher in charge directs large groups into small confined spaces where they 'assume the position' (huddle) for long periods of time.  The space might be a bathroom or closet.
When children have autism, it's usually impossible to make them huddle---they simply don't understand or sensory issues prevent them from doing this for 30 to 45 minutes.  The next best thing then is to keep them sitting and happy in a safe room---again not always easy.  This is where the iPad really came in handy today. When the tornado alert sounded, I bounded to the EC class, iPad in hand, to help the teachers and to keep the kids entertained in a safe way. We actually had a few iPads for about 10 kids.  

1. Kids took turn in the safe room playing simple iPad games.

2. YouTube videos on the iPad were played to keep them entertained.

3. With the iPad 2, we took a few silly pictures during our confinement, and shared them.   Most of the photos were of the kids (they loved them), but I caught a few adults ;)
One of our lovely staff members!  She's a gem!

4.  With the iPad, the teachers could monitor the weather conditions on the internet and anticipate how long the kids needed to be confined to the small space, since there were no regular announcements coming in otherwise.  The iPad alleviated anxiety all around, in many ways, during a stressful situation.

To conclude here, most of the children that I work with survived the day unscathed.  I'm sure some of them wondered why they sat on the floor for long periods of time in a different room with a lot of adults and other kids, but the teachers worked very hard to keep them happy and calm.  The iPad helped a little, but I have to give credit where credit is due. Yeah, Ephesus EC teachers and assistants!!!!!

Monday, September 5, 2011

Little Things and Little People Matter

He's looking forward to coming to speech tomorrow! (The kid, not SpongeBob)
 I'm all geared up to go back to work.  No clever blog moments today.  Just some random shots.
Photo taken by Alana at the Botanical Garden

A visitor on our kitchen window screen.
This last little video was of little jumping minnows at the Botanical Gardens.   Lots of fun!  
Have a nice week everyone!

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Fall Leaves Craft --iPad, Pictello, and Boardmaker

My speech therapy schedule has started full blast---it's like we never had a vacation.   I really can't complain.  Across the state, school based speech pathologists struggle with impossible caseload sizes---50 kids, 60 kids?  I don't know how you even learn the children's names much less try to help them with their communication skills.  In Chapel Hill, we have been truly blessed because there is a commitment on the part of the administration to keep workloads manageable across the district.  That's one reason I am happy with my job!

Book with icons is at the top of the picture. 

Another reason I like my job is the access to technology---my favorite gadget of course being the iPad.  On Friday, in anticipation of fall (I'm desperately wanting cooler temps, and sweater weather!) we read an adapted book together in the EC classroom ("One Bright Fall Morning") and then made a fall leaves craft.  I set up a Pictello story with craft pictures, and then adapted the activity somewhat to take into account difficulties with using scissors. 

screenshot from pictello

  These next four pictures are a few of the screenshots from the Pictello ipad app.  It is simply sequential pictures of the craft, but also has text-to-speech features. If a child touches the picture, the direction is spoken aloud.  In addition, the kids really like swiping the screen to get to the next picture.  With an iPad 2, it's simple to take the pictures with the iPad and import them into the app when setting this all up.

My hubby--I made the craft at home first and needed a model!

Communication board; boardmaker icons for leaves

So, how did the kids do?  We adapted the lesson-
precut the spiral, used Boardmaker icons for the leaves, and had a simple communication board handy for each child.  They enjoyed the adapted book, and each child was able to match icons, numbers and pictures.  At the end, we watched a YouTube video about the seasons.  I would say this was successful---the teacher and assistants participated with the kids and this activity reinforced to the adults that the iPad, adapted books, and communication boards can be great tools for any lesson.

This blog entry was posted in "Mom to 2 Posh Lil Divas"