Let the state testing begin!



This post is primarily for Texas teachers who administer the STAAR-Alt. 2 exam in the spring.  If you're one of these lucky teachers, then you are either at the beginning stages of thinking about the test, or at the ending stages of trying to block it out of your mind.  STAAR can feel like a ticking clock that gets louder and louder, but every classroom is different, so it doesn't have to be that way for all of you.

Special education teachers administering the alternate assessment used to have to make all of their own tests, and that was very overwhelming.  My first year administering the test, I was the only teacher in the A.L.E. classroom with 14 students to test.  This meant, based off their grade levels and the number of tests they needed to take, I had to write over 40 individualized tests (multiply that by many, many essence statements), as well as create materials for the tests.  It took me months of working nights and weekends to have the tests ready by the testing window.

Although we don't any longer have to write our own tests, we still have to accommodate them for each student.  That's fine, as long as you don't have a large class, in which case the big concern is actually getting the tests complete within the testing window.  I feel for you.

Hopefully most of you fall into the area where it's stressful but manageable.  If you haven't done your training yet, you'll probably be doing it soon.  Every year I walk out of the test training feeling like a scared puppy.  You've just had someone tell you for hours all of the ways you can lose your job.  This isn't the most fun day of the year, but it's one of those predicable things about being a teacher.

So, for the sake of CONFIDENTIALITY, I will note that nothing in this post is confidential.  Through trainings you are provided a lot of information, but there is also a lot of information available online to help you prepare for STAAR.  One of the big hurdles is finding the time to track the information down.  So, this is just meant to be a helpful post to save you time.

Everyone has their own opinion regarding standardized tests, particularly for students with significant cognitive disabilities.  It's very difficult to assess our students with a standardized test.  Still, I try to stay positive.  The state needs a consistent way to assess all students, and the essence statements that the tests are built off of are TEKS based.  So instead of looking at it like we are teaching to a test by creating activities based off of essence statements, I prefer to see it as we are creating activities based off of essence statements because they are TEKS based, and that's what our students need and deserve.  The test in the spring is designed to measure growth in our students.

So, if we have students who do not pass the STAAR-Alternate 2 assessment, it shouldn't be looked at as a failure.  If you click HERE, you'll find the STAAR Raw Score Conversion Tables for 2014-2015.  If your student didn't pass last year, then they would be a level 1 learner, and with all students, we're looking to see growth.  Within their "not passing" range there are numbers, so don't fret.  If you have a fear that your student may not pass this year, replace that fear with helping your student to increase their score this year.  Shifting focus from "pass/fail" to GROWTH & PROGRESS is essential.

So, it's time to get prepared.  No more procrastination!
The Texas Education Agency offers many resources to prepare teachers for the STAAR-Alt. 2 exam.  They offer so many links, in fact, that it can be overwhelming.  So, just to break it down for the teacher who may not have visited the T.E.A. website, here are some links to empower you:

Click HERE to go to the Texas Education Agency's STAAR-Alternate 2 Resources page.  You can find links to allowable accommodations for STAAR-Alt. 2, participation requirements, and much more, including the links that I'm about to list below.

Click HERE to download Vertical Alignment Documents.  I list this resource first for a reason.   Obviously, the first step in planning what your students will learn is understanding the state's mandates regarding essential skills.  The Vertical Alignment Document goes by subject, and for each subject, it lists the essential knowledge and skills for students K-12 (or end of course).  What makes this document as user friendly as possible (don't laugh, I know it's A LOT), is that under each skill, it lists how those skills increase in rigor throughout grade levels.  It helps you to begin with the end in mind by being aware of what Texas students are learning at each grade level.  It's essential that special needs teachers are aware of what students are learning in general education.  Ideally, you will begin your school year by becoming familiar with these documents, as they can be useful in planning lessons for your students as well as writing I.E.P. goals.

Click HERE to download the Curriculum Framework Documents.  This is a multi-purpose document, so I'll explain some of what you can get out of it.  The documents that you can download here are specifically for students taking the STAAR-Alternate 2 assessment.

Students who take classes in an alternative learning environment (specialized support, life skills, etc.) do so because an ARD committee has determined, through evaluation of multiple data sources, that a particular student has a significant cognitive disability, and that said student must access the TEKS (Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills) through prerequisite skills.  This is my favorite part of the Curriculum Framework Document.  Special education teachers often get frustrated when they look at the TEKS, because they may not be entirely appropriate for their students the way they are written.  That's why our students access the TEKS through prerequisite skills.  Planning based off of these skills will assure that you are on track with teaching your students what they're supposed to be learning.  Yes, it's more than just their I.E.P. goals.

Beyond the prerequisite skills, the Curriculum Framework Document provides STAAR-Alt. 2 specific information such as instructional terms, the STAAR reporting category, the TEKS that align with your prerequisite skills, and the essence of the TEKS listed.  It's great information, but I'll give you a side note.  Each of these are large files, so you don't necessarily need to print them.  If you save them to your computer and read what you need when you need it, it's less overwhelming.  It's also less overwhelming, if you do choose to print, to only print exactly what you need.

Last year I had 6th, 7th and 8th graders in my room, so I went through the Instructional Terms for all three grade levels, for all nine tests, and I created graphic display vocabulary sheets.  You can click below to download all 130 pages for free.  Much of the vocabulary is the same as last year, so you can eliminate or add whatever you need.  I found that the sheets helped me just as much as the students, as I put them up early in the year, and it was a constant reminder for me to be using the vocabulary that the students needed to learn.  It helped me to stay focused.  I hope it helps you too!

If you're ready to begin planning activities for your students, click HERE to download the essence statements.  I try to start writing and teaching activities based off the essence statements as soon as I can access them, and if I don't have access to the newest ones, I use previous statements to assure that I have that time built into my week.

If you have a large class, if each of your students has a large number of I.E.P. goals, or if you are dealing with both, then once again, I feel for you.  I.E.P. goals are extremely important, but it's also important to remember to not write them in excess.  When students have too many goals, it makes it very difficult for them to not only show significant progress with each goal, but it also makes it difficult to work anything but I.E.P. goals into your lesson plans.

Ideally, there should be time in the week to teach activities based off of essence statements, because this is what exposes them to a wider range of grade level skills and what makes their spring assessment a more valuable measure of their growth.  The more forms of data we can document in a PLAAFP, the better picture we create of where a student is functioning and how the committee can best plan for their future.

I created a 12 week pacing calendar for myself to cover the essence statements that I will be testing in the spring.  Like I said above, none of this is confidential.  I pulled the essence statements for this year directly from the T.E.A. website, and the activities under each are just samples that I created based off of the format provided on the T.E.A. website's Sample Questions for STAAR-Alt. 2.  Each of the activities can be differentiated, but I thought it might be helpful to share these examples, as it's pretty easy to find yourself getting brain-block after reading pages of essence statements and trying to come up with activities.  You won't see any 8th grade activities on the sample, as I don't have 8th graders this year, but I'm also providing the template I made that includes 8th grade, in case you wanted to use it to design your own plan.

                

When people decide to become teachers, I can only guess that most would not put administering standardized tests near the top of their list.  It's a tremendous amount of work, and I wish you all the best of luck in your preparation!!

Where is Mrs. Morrow?

I've been M.I.A. in the blog world for a few months, but only because I have been working on quite a few projects that I hope will greatly benefit special needs teachers and students in Texas.

I'm in the process of reviewing and updating the Monthly Instructional Guides on the Region 3 website.  I'm really excited about this project because I can indulge in one of my nerdy passions:  organizing.  Sometimes it takes time to make time.  With this project, I'm taking the time to make time for teachers.  Once complete, teachers will be able to download monthly guides with accompanying attachments for each month of the school year.  It's intended to be a tool for teachers to pace themselves with their many responsibilities in a school year.  I plan on devoting one of the months later in the year to technology, so if you use any amazing apps or websites with your students, please send them my way to be added to the master list!
Once the instructional guides are complete, I'll begin working on a really exciting project.  I've been contracted to write a Down Syndrome 101 powerpoint for the Statewide LID network.  Upon completion, the powerpoint will be recorded and made available to teachers and parents across the state using a platform like adobe connect.  I'll be creating slides with slide notes that are scripted for teachers to read in preparing the webinar.  The powerpoint will be shared with all LID (low incidence disabilities) specialists in case they want to present it in a face to face format.  My focus in this presentation will be teaching strategies for working with this student population, not only in an alternative learning environment, but in all school learning environments.  For this project, I'll be searching for photographs of strategies and/or activities being implemented successfully in the classroom, so if you have any great ideas that you'd like to volunteer, I welcome you to do so.  I can always be reached through email.
Every school year I welcome teachers and administrators from around the state to visit my room.  Teachers are amazing resources for other teachers.  I learn something new from every teacher I meet, and that's why I love to collaborate.  Life can get busy though, and we live in a big state.  For this reason, I'm trying a new way to connect with teachers and administrators around the state.  Through GoToMeeting, I can meet with teachers and administrators online using a web camera and the ability for groups of people to ask questions without having to leave their laptop.  Before the meeting, I provide access to attachments that attendees can reference during the meeting.  Hot topics right now seem to be behavior management, lesson planning, and integrating STAAR essence statements into instruction, but really, any issue can be discussed.  I'm looking forward to connecting with many more educators using this tool.

So, that's it in a nutshell.  I'm hoping to be posting new activities and resources to my site around late spring, and I really appreciate the amazing response that I've gotten from teachers.  I want to give the biggest THANK YOU to Lottie Tomko from Region 3 who is not only a warm person and a hard working lady, but who has also provided me with many opportunities over the past few years to get my ideas out of my head and bring them to people who she thinks they may help.  You're awesome!

Special Education Classroom Setup

As an avid blog follower, I've seen some amazing classroom reveals popping up the past month.  I love seeing how different teachers design their classrooms for both FUN and FUNctionality.  Regardless of grade or learning environment, there are so many great ideas out there that we can tweak to work in our own rooms.

With the pace that we become accustomed to in the summer, I found myself very eager to take all of the ideas swirling in my head and make them a reality in my room.  I quickly remembered why posting a Classroom Reveal blog post the first week of school is futile.


Change is constant as a teacher.  In special education, this is particularly true.  The students' needs design our classrooms.  I've implemented successful systems in the past that I've loved, and then the next year, the systems had to be packed away, because I realized that they just wouldn't work with the group of students I would have in the upcoming year.

At the beginning of the summer, a new children's museum opened up down the street from my house.  My one-year-old daughter and I spent countless days there playing.  Knowing that this was one of the things that I was going to miss most about this summer, I knew that wanted to incorporate the colors and themes of the children's museum in my classroom, so that's where I started.  And, that's where I had to stop until I got to know not only my new students, but also how my students from last year would work with my new students.

To maintain confidentiality, you'll see smiley faces where there are student pictures and/or names, because, of course, my students are always smiling...hahaha.


There were some things that I knew I would need to set up immediately.  I knew I needed an area for hygiene (tissues, hand sanitizer, visuals about when to clean hands and reminders about what makes our hands dirty, etc.)  This is also the area where I keep my tools, not toys.  I keep fidgets in this area to keep busy hands busy.  I offer whisper phones made out of PVC pipes for students to use when reading quietly to themselves, as well as counting cubes and other items that I want students to have access to.

HYGIENE & TOOLS, NOT TOYS


Every classroom needs an area for technology.  I have four elderly computers and an absolutely beautiful Smartboard.  Underneath the Smartboard, I have a charging bin where we place our iPads to be charged.  Students are taught to return iPads to this area, and it makes it easier for me to make sure that all iPads and chargers are accounted for.

TECHNOLOGY ZONE


I expect all of my students to follow technology procedures.  Technology at school is for learning, and if they choose to exit what they're supposed to be working on, whether it's on the computer or an iPad, they lose technology privileges for the rest of the day.  Technology procedures are reviewed frequently with the students, and after having to remove the first picture at the beginning of the year for not following our procedures, I don't usually have to do it again.

TECHNOLOGY PROCEDURES

I'm very fortunate to have these block cubby holes in my room that are perfect for my lesson boxes.  There are more than a few container options out there to fit the layout of every room.  Every box holds activities in every core subject area.  If there is a box that holds an activity connected to an IEP goal, I put a sticker on the exterior to flag it.  It was a huge investment of time and also an investment of money, but it has proven to be worth it.  When I made labels for every unit that I wanted to teach throughout the school year, I could easily see where I had ample materials and where I had virtually no materials.  This helped me to focus my time and efforts in the most needed areas.  It also helps on those days that I'm going to be absent, because the activities are all ready for my guest teacher.  You can download all of the labels for my bins and my lesson boxes by clicking HERE.  I've updated my labels since I printed them for my own boxes, so the labels available for download are far better than mine!
LESSON BOXES

I have a token economy in my classroom.  Students' pictures are posted at the top, and the coin "wallet" is posted out of reach of students but where students can see their coins.  Under the coins are visuals that I refer to frequently describing what students need to do in order to earn coins and be charged coins.  Below the visuals is a price chart that I hard laminate without prices posted.  I change my prices weekly based off of how many coins the students earn and what they can purchase.

TOKEN ECONOMY



I set up a teamwork system, although I also recognized that the expectations I would have for my students regarding teamwork might need to be adjusted from the last year.  I divide my teamwork board into red and black, with a zero right in the middle.  I use library book envelopes to show positive and negative integers.  Students' pictures are adhered to popsicle sticks.  Every student begins every day at zero.  I have visuals posted on each side that I refer to frequently, explaining to students how their choices are positive for the team or negative for the team.  Students either earn bonus coins, or they owe me coins based off the choices they make to advance our strong classroom team.  We have a "Fun Friday" activity in the afternoon on Fridays.  Students can move back and forth on the number line all week, but if they end their week in the "red," they will work on an alternate assignment with a paraprofessional rather than participating in the Friday activities.  This is also a great way to teach positive and negative integers in a meaningful way.

If you would like to download my teamwork sign for FREE, click HERE.  If you would like to download the visuals for my teamwork system, click HERE.

TEAMWORK SYSTEM
I set up the framework for my small group area, with future plans of inserting needed materials and activities once baseline data was collected on my students' abilities.  An important part of the classroom is the small group table.  I love using flexible groupings based off the activity.  Next to my small group table, in addition to my lesson boxes, I have a tower for more activities.  These include very specific activities for specific IEP goal instruction for specific students, as well as activities that target foundation skills that I might want the paraprofessionals to work on with the students.  Each student has a drawer or two with their name on it so that anyone who is available to work with a student can open it and pull out an individualized activity for each student.

SMALL GROUP AREA


Of course, I also needed my within-reach-of-what-I-need teacher area.  I think it's important that teachers have an area that is a no student zone, even if it's a tiny area.  We MUST have a place for confidential papers, important information that we might need to access quickly, a place for items that students may have brought from home and not have full access to, and a place for sharper objects (scissors, etc.) that need to be strictly monitored and so on.

TEACHER AREA


Behind my teacher area is kind of like my command post.  In this area, I have my area for easily accessible lesson plans, sleeves for important information and a hook for my student information cards.  I make student information cards every year to have access to needed information quickly and easily.  If you'd like a template for student information cards, click HERE.  If you're also interested in the Guide that includes examples of student information cards, click HERE.

LESSON PLANS, STUDENT INFO. CARDS, ETC.


We're not only the students' teacher, we're also usually their case manager, and there is a lot of information that various people on my various teams both need to know and don't need to know about a given student.  Most of the time, people need to know only certain information about a student, such as their mode of communication and communication devices they use, as well as information about their personalities such as what teaching approach works best (firm or gentle), the students' interests and what needs to be avoided when it comes to working with certain students.  For example, mentioning a certain trigger, sensitivities to excessive noise or light, getting too close, etc. can be important information.  To inform the team without "over" informing, I made a Quick Reference clipboard.  Educators can get a quick picture of how to work with a student that they might not know very well.

QUICK REFERENCE

We're now kicking into high gear with the school year.  I've had a few extremely busy weeks getting to know my students, their needs and how they will all work together.  I've gotten a good idea of my students' current work habits and where I'd like them to be by the end of the year in regards to being ready to learn.  I've also gotten a very good idea of what each student is likely to do when they don't feel ready to learn.  I implemented a Ready to Learn system in my room.  Students begin every day with their clothes pin on Ready to Learn (green).  Depending on their effort and participation in academic activities throughout the day, they can move up to Wonderful (blue) and then Fabulous (purple).  Or, they could be moved down to Make Better Choices (orange) or Talk about a Consequence (red).

READY TO LEARN & CLASSROOM EXPECTATIONS

What must be recognized is that there cannot be blanket rules and expectations for all students in a special needs classroom, because some students have learned negative behaviors and others cannot help certain behaviors because of their disability.  What can be allowed for one students should not be allowed for another student.  So, I had to think of a way to differentiate the system fairly for every student.

I created an individualized rubric for each student.  The rubric defines what Ready to Learn looks like for each student.  What is "Fabulous" for one student might be "Ready to Learn" for another.  It has already helped out greatly when I encountered a situation where one student needed to make better choices (orange), but another student was not moved because that student could not control themselves in the same way as the first student.  I reiterate to the class that everyone has a personal goal to better themselves and become better students.  Becoming a better student is different for everyone, so we are part of the same system, but we need to support each other in our differences and try to find the leader in ourselves.  It's one of my ways of creating controlled chaos.  If you'd like to download the Ready to Learn visuals, you can click HERE.  The rubric is not included, as a rubric for what defines each students' level on the chart is very different.

READY TO LEARN CHART

An extension of the Ready to Learn system with its accompanying rubrics is the Personal Goal Calendar.  At the end of the day, students color on the calendar where their clothes pin was at the end of the day.  There is also a place for certain students to color on their communication sheet that goes home so that their parents know daily the effort that their student is paying toward learning.  At the end of each month, we're going to have a Ready to Learn drawing that will reward students who are consistently in green, blue and purple at the end of the day.

It is very difficult (if not currently impossible) for most of my students to set personal goals.  This is one of the strategies I use to teach students reflection and personal goal setting.

PERSONAL GOAL CALENDAR & RUBRIC

At the entrance/exit to my room, I have this tiny, important post.  This is our Inbox/Outbox zone.  The box on top is where I put papers that need to be dropped off at various locations on campus, copies that I need to be made, and items that need to be taken to various locations.  Under this box, on the shelf, are passes for places like the nurse and counselor.  On the way is posted a reminder about keeping hands clean, as well as the bus chart that shows student names and bus numbers for all of my students.  This information is useful EVERY DAY.
*For some reason this paragraph won't align to the left.  So annoying.

THE ENTRANCE/EXIT DOOR


There's a lot going on in the morning.  The telephone rings that a bus might be late, a student might not want to get off the bus, perhaps a student has a morning job somewhere else on campus, a teacher or two or three might need to give you pressing information, 5 or 50 emails might have come in from parents and administrators needing to give you information right away, and so on.  Students cannot come in and be idle.  Students need morning warm-ups to ease their brains into school while the day gets started.  Morning warm-ups must be appropriate for the students you have that year.  This year, I provide a bundle of laminated, simple bar graphs for students to complete.  They have access to dry erase markers and clipboards.  They choose the graph that sparks their interest, and they are free to go between my room and the adjoining special needs room, practicing their speech skills while they fill out their bar graph.  When we begin our morning meeting, we discuss the results of their graphs.

MORNING WARM-UPS

I've done this system in many different ways, but this year, this is what the student mailboxes look like.  Their pictures and names are on the front of their boxes.  This is where we keep their communication logs, papers, and of course, little trinkets that I don't want at their desks.  It also makes it easy for me, when papers come to me that must be sent home, to drop them in each of their boxes and ensure, at the end of the day, that the papers make it home.  Under the mailboxes are our recycle and shred bins, as well as a box of needed supplies to go to electives and a bin for our student aid to tend to when he visits the room.

STUDENT MAILBOXES

When several students are on technology, all with sound going, the room can be a very distracting environment for students who are learning in small group.  I label all student headphones in individual baggies, and students use their own headphones when they're on technology that has sound.  I also teach a work skills class where I have students wear aprons.  I have a bin for the students to keep their "uniforms."  There's a bin for social narratives and another for student items that come from home and need a safe place to park so that they will not become a distraction.  Of course, there's also a bin for lunches so that students can learn to be responsible for emptying their backpacks of food items in the morning and delivering them to a place that makes it easy for the paras to deliver them to the refrigerator.

BINS


Every student has a different plan, so there's a binder for everything!  I use binders for take-home communication logs, preferring preprinted and individualized communication log forms over writing in spiral notebooks at the end of the day.  This is because, when I'm being pulled in multiple directions upon dismissal, writing in spirals doesn't prove efficient for me.  I use binders for student data, for collecting work samples, for keeping IEP goals and meeting information, and I use binders for students who travel to other classes so that their social narratives, behavior contracts and reminders of positive behavior reinforcement systems are available in every class.  I even use the sleeves on the exterior of the binders to remind me about things like sending student iPads home at the end of the day.

BINDERS





There are some extra things that I post in my room to keep our day running efficiently.  Of course, students love lunch!  I post the lunch menu calendar in an area that we can check every morning.  I have a door in my room that leads to a changing area.  This door is referred to on a daily basis, as posted on this door is important information such as my 9-weeks pacing calendars, critical skills that we teach beyond academics, and my student privacy list that lets me know at a quick glance which students have approved parental access to internet and who can or cannot be photographed, etc.  On the door, I also post a classroom schedule for teachers including teacher to student ratios at every part of the day, where students are if they are not in my room and where paraprofessionals are and who they're working with at any given time of day.  Of course, I have the daily schedule for students posted on another wall, as they need more basic information than the teachers.

NEEDED INFORMATION ON THE WALLS



I do not require homework in my classroom, but sometimes parents still want extra work for their students to do at home.  Because many of our learners are not pencil/paper students, sending homework home can be difficult.  I created a teacher webpage that offers educational internet sites and reading materials that are appropriate for our students.  I'm still working to add materials to my site.  I created a homework checklist that is sent home by parent request only, and if students bring it back on Friday with their personal goal met, they earn extra coins.  You can download my homework checklist for FREE by clicking HERE.


This year I encountered a challenge that I have never before encountered.  I have students who carry smart phones.  Smart technology can be an amazing tool for our students, but students also need to learn how to limit their use of this technology, particularly during academic instruction.  I created a phone jail in not only my room, but in every classroom where these tech-saavy students learn.  In every one of their classes, they check their phone into phone jail at the beginning of class and retrieve it at the end of class.  This has helped to teach my students moderation when it comes to personal technology use at school.  This wasn't easy.  It took time, but it is now becoming more automatic, and the students are beginning to check their phones in without reminders.  The students who do not need a phone jail are not required to use it.  The students who have repeatedly shown that they are having a difficult time not pulling it out of their pocket during class are required to use this system.  Mine is a simple pencil case that is in a safe place where students can see it and not readily access it during class.  My personal experience is that if my students can see the phone jail, then they know their phone is safe.

PHONE JAIL

This is my fun new project.  It's combination of a math station and work skills.  I splurged a bit and got a calculator cash register.  I have food boxes (I was busy and bought them, but they could also be brought in from home when containers are emptied).  I photographed all of my "products" and made activity sheets to go along with them.  I put the activity sheets in plastic sleeves so that they can be written on with dry erase markers and be used repeatedly.  My amazing paraprofessional tediously cut out all of my prices and taped them to the products.  Students take an activity sheet, locate the products in the "pantry" and put them in their basket.  They then use the cash register to add up the total price of their products and circle the answer.

Although you'd need to do your own editing, you can upload a FREE powerpoint of this activity by clicking HERE.  Change the pictures, change the prices, or basically change whatever you want in order to make it work for your room!

MRS. MORROW'S PANTRY



This was a long post, and I assure you that I edited it down greatly.  There are so many components to setting up a special needs classroom, and every classroom is going to be different based on the given student population.  My classroom has looked very different every year, and I have seen some amazing classrooms that looked nothing like mine, because they just wouldn't work for my students.  I hope that, if you made it this far in my post, you've found at least one idea that you can use in your room to help you teach your students more effectively.  Time is always our enemy.  It has taken me years to get to this point, and there's still so much that I want to do that I haven't yet had the time to create.  Those things will come with TIME.  We add to the big picture every year, making our rooms better and better.  The best of luck to all of you teachers who are working your tails off every day for the students!!!!

Teacher Webpage Ideas

As we're beginning the new school year, the last thing you might be thinking about is designing your teacher webpage.  Yes, you have a to-do list growing by the minute, and I completely recognize that addressing this may not even be in your top 20.  The thing about the to-do list, is that if you had more time, it could probably be knocked out much faster.  It's just that a lot of things slow us down from finishing that list.

If you know me, then you know that parent communication is one of my biggest priorities.  I strive to be consistent in the information I provide to all parents.  I spend an enormous amount of time each week disseminating information to parents.  I spend countless stolen minutes throughout the day (my lunch, my conference period when I need to be planning lessons, after 5pm when my baby is hungry for dinner...) responding to emails and making sure that everyone is "in the know."



Last year I decided to find a way to take back that time.  I needed more time to create more hands-on lessons for my students.  I needed time to gather all of the supplies needed for those lessons.  There is only so much time in the day.  Where do I find those crucial minutes so that I can have more time to get to that to-do list?

I decided to use my teacher webpage to help me stop repeating myself in emails and communication logs.  I decided I could use my teacher webpage to be more consistent in the information that I provide parents.  I decided that I finally needed to have a way to keep ALL parents "in the know" simultaneously.  Doing so has allowed me to utilize those stolen moments so that I can appropriate more time for creating more meaningful lessons.

Many campuses provide teachers with access to a teacher webpage account.  It's difficult to provide an exact "how to," because each provider will give templates and formats that are different.  The intent of this post is to give you ideas when you create your own page.  I also include directions on how to embed a Google calendar into your webpage, as this will save you a lot of time in letting parents know what is happening when.

In case you'd like to visit my actual teacher webpage, you can go to www.arianamorrow.weebly.com. I'm posting a lot of screen shots, so keep in mind that the little green post-its are speaking to you, but they're not really there.

HOME PAGE

Of course, you need to have a home page.  I like to put a picture of myself on the page, because I would want to see who my daughter is spending her whole day with.  Crucial information should be your email address, your conference time, and if applicable, your classroom phone number.


ASSIGNMENT CALENDAR

Next, I like to have an assignment calendar.  I don't necessarily give assignments, as I teach in an alternative learning environment, where many students do not do typical work.  This calendar, though, is a great way for me to let parents know about upcoming events (Special Olympics, picture day, state testing days, campus events, special projects, etc.)


The best way that the other A.L.E. teacher (Mrs. Lodge) and I have found to keep this information updated is with a Google Calendar.  We both have access to this calendar, and we can both add to it with the updates showing up simultaneously on both of our teacher webpages.  Under the calendar, I provide 4 different links where parents can download the curriculum calendars for each of the nine weeks of the school year.  Because many of our students cannot go home and have conversations with their parents about what they're learning (do any teenagers really do that anyway?), parents can see what topics we're focusing on in school and open up that dialogue with their students.


Below you can read how to add a Google Calendar to your own teacher webpage.



It's THAT simple!  Hahaha....after 8 steps, or more, depending on your teacher webpage host.

INSTRUCTIONAL RESOURCES

I include a few other pages on my site that provide parents with more information.  One page that is very helpful is my Instructional Resources page.  Because many of my students do not do pencil/paper work, it's difficult for parents who want to reinforce learning at home to do so.  To best support these parents and students, I provide a page with links under each subject area that can be used to reinforce learning at home.  Because students are working at many levels, parents have the opportunity to find a site that best fits their student's needs.


I start with reading, math and science.  Parents or students can click on any link and be taken directly to an educational website.  Currently, I have 34 links for reading, 34 links for math and 29 links for science.


I also share 25 links for social studies and 21 additional links to enrich student learning.  Not ALL links are appropriate for every student.  This is the nature of the alternative learning environment.  If parents choose for their students to have homework, these links can provide an option.


ABOUT ME

It's a good idea to have an About Me page on your site.  We all work very hard to be in a position where we can take on the responsibility of educating youth, and this is our chance to tell those new parents who we are.


With some parents, I've been afforded years for them to get to know me, but for new parents, it can be very scary.  They are trusting us with their most valuable love, and I want them to know that everything is going to be okay.


CLASSROOM NEWSLETTERS

My next page is my Classroom Newsletter page.  I am NOT a paper waster, and I also try to avoid sending home unnecessary pages that may never make it home.  On the below image, you won't see any buttons below the pictures because we're just starting the year.  Every month I will add a button under the month that will directly link parents to a download of my newsletter.  On my newsletter I include information such as birthdays, sight words, monthly need-to-knows, etc.



BEGINNING THE YEAR

Okay, this is where things get REAL.  There is SO MUCH information that parents need to know before the school year starts.  Sometimes we have our parents' emails and phone numbers, and sometimes we don't.  I have a page for Beginning the School Year.  Not all is pictured here, but I first include the classroom supply list (a special needs classroom needs different supplies than other classrooms).  I also include information about Open House, how to obtain ID cards, details about lunch accounts and procedures, if students need P.E. uniforms (and if so, how to obtain them), when to call the classroom phone, arrival and dismissal procedures, and information about the restroom.


COMMUNITY RESOURCES

My next page is about Community Resources.  At the end of the year I get a lot of questions about programs for special needs students in the summer.  I provide parents with, currently, 34 links to activities available for students, ranging from daytime activities to full care in Texas and the San Antonio area.  Parents can click the buttons to be taken to each program's webpage.


ELECTIVES

My next page addresses a hot topic.  The transition from elementary to middle school is a BIG one.  As a previous special education teacher in elementary school, I know that students participate in "specials" where their one elective (music, art, P.E., etc.) may rotate from day to day.  At this young age, there is a lot more flexibility.  Once students enter middle school, they are tied to blocks of time on a bell schedule where students move freely about the school.  Schedules are written by coordinators to put students in certain classes at certain times.  The rigor of classes increases greatly, as well as the class sizes.  This can pose a challenge when it comes to electives.  Music classes aren't purely "participating," but rather students are held to competitive standards in multiple, very specific groups.  It's very important to find the right elective for the right student so that they are not overwhelmed or overstimulated.  On my campus in the alternative learning program, we offer two different work skills electives and a social skills elective.  There are also general education electives available to our students.  I know from experience that many people in the elementary IEP team are not completely aware of the rigor involved in certain electives, as well as the critical skills offered in other electives.

In an attempt to help these teams make the most educated choices for their students, I created a page that describes electives available to students on our campus.  The team who knows the student the best can project this information on the screen, directly from my page, and determine which learning environment will best meet the needs of their student.  It's win-win for everyone!


READING, MATH, SCIENCE, SOCIAL STUDIES & LANGUAGE ARTS

Possibly excessive, yes, but that's me.  I created five pages on my site specifically for parents.  When they visited the aforementioned Calendar page, parents were able to access the curriculum calendars for each of the four 9-weeks.  This information is reiterated in my Classroom Newsletter.  Parents can then visit each of these five subject pages to locate what we're learning and download resources to reinforce learning at home.  Homework resource #2?  Yes, it is.  Reading materials are very difficult to access for parents (jeez, even for us!)  Even if students aren't readers, parents can print these resources and read them to their students.  This is a completely optional resource, but if the time can be found, it shows students that parents are aware of what they are learning and are actively engaged in their education. 




8TH GRADERS MOVING TO HIGH SCHOOL

Perhaps not such a big deal now, but you may want to add the next page by the end of the school year.  Just as the transition from elementary to middle school is scary, everyone can get comfortable after three years, and then the HUGE transition to high school begins to loom.  I contacted the staff at our high school and asked for information about things that I knew parents wanted to know.  The questions coming to me weren't about academics (because they felt confident in what was set in the IEP).  The questions from my parents were about how their student would be cared for.

I created a page for parents to learn about transitioning their student to high school.  Information on this page includes how lunch, restroom and snack are handled.  It explains to parents how case managers are assigned, and it explains (briefly) how behavior is handled.  This page is just a brief overview, because of course, high school staff must be contacted for specifics.  It does, however, introduce the transition from middle school to high school.


MEETINGS

My last page may seem a little silly, but I saw a need.  There are A LOT of meetings in special education.  Every time there is a meeting, there is A LOT of paperwork.  Every time a teacher stops to do paperwork, what they are stopping is planning enriching lessons for students.  Like I said before, there is only so much time in a teacher's 12+ hour work day.  Meetings held for the right purposes are RIGHT.  On the other hand, it's important for everyone to know what kind of meetings are held and why.  How will parents know unless we tell them?  There are many issues that can be addressed through having a parent/teacher conference and not holding an ARD (Admission, Review and Dismissal Meeting).  If parents and teachers can solve the problem through a conference, then everything will happen faster without paperwork and gathering team members to slow it down.

I created this page to let ALL parents know their options when it comes to meetings.  I sincerely hope it helps to expedite the meeting of student needs in the most appropriate way.


Well, if you had the patience to read through all of this, then you must have a need.  Even if this is number 50 on your list, I hope this will be a good resource for you, whenever you get to it.

A solid and comprehensive teacher webpage can save you an enormous amount of time in the long haul, and that time can be spent on more pressing matters.  Even if you add a page a month, you're on your way, and by the end of the year, you have template that may only need to be edited from year to year.  Good luck, and I wish you an amazing school year!