Tag Archives: special education

My IEP Checklist

Even though I’ve written IEPs for 22 years, I still feel like I need a checklist to get me through the process.

My new Erin Condren Teacher Planner has a perfect checklist that I can track my progress for each student on my mentor list.

Organization AND motivation! I can’t wait to see all those boxes filled in!

Keeping track of ETR paperwork, documenting the invites, and getting a general ed teacher to commit is always a challenge!

The most important part and the step I always procrastinate on – the actual filing of the IEP in the office!

I still have boxes to spare, so tell me…

What could I be forgetting?

What is YOUR process?

How do you stay on top of your IEPs?

Leave me a comment and share your ideas!

The Possibility of iPads Next Fall

This week I should find out if my friend and I are getting iPads for our Resource Rooms.

We wrote the grant over Spring Break and submitted it to our Tech Department the morning the email came out announcing it.

We quickly received a really nice email from the person in charge, thanking us for our application. But you know how the mind plays tricks on you….”Did she thank us for applying, but…..?” or “Did she really like our applications that much?”

One minute we are like, “We are so gonna get them!” and then we are like, “We better get them!” and then “We are never getting them.”

A few years ago, we wrote a grant together to get  a Senteo Response System (and we got it!).  The year before that, I wrote a grant for a SMARTBoard and document camera. (I was initially denied but then the special education department had some extra money.)

But iPads….they are a hot item right now. Everyone wants them. And there is only so much money in the budget…and we’ve already  received a grant. We can’t expect to get them all.

I think we had pretty valid points and I think we could do amazing things with 6 iPads.

I have the RR students 1st and 2nd period for Language Arts and then they go to RR Math during 3rd and 4th.  At the most, we will have 10 students on our roster.

Why do I think we should receive a grant?

Here are a few excerpts from our application:

-The addition of iPads will allow students in the resource room setting and the inclusion classroom to receive instruction which will be interactive, engaging, and individualized for their particular learning needs.  By combining tablet technology, students will be able to view instructional materials firsthand and in real-time.

-As we each teach multi-grade level resource rooms, it is important that we have the resources available to differentiate their instruction as their IEP calls for.  For example, reading levels this year range from non-reader to 7th grade.  In Math, students’ ability levels range from 1st grade to 6th grade.

-Incorporating iPads into the classroom will allow us to break students into appropriate groups for specific skills. While the teacher is working with one ability/grade level, the others will be directed to appropriate activities using the technology.  With so many apps and programs designed to keep record of student progress, this will allow us to receive immediate feedback and easily plan individualized instruction. Core Math, which is fully compatible with Common Core Standards, is able to track progress for 50 students.  Khan Academy would allow similar progress monitoring and prescriptive teaching.  DropBox will allow us to create individual folders for each student with appropriate reading selections and spelling activities.  Vocabulary and spelling skills can be individualized on Spelling City.

-This new technology will be especially beneficial as our math and language arts series are available online. As the instructors, we will be able to direct students’ attention to particular features of the text, highlight important details, and demonstrate strategies for improving reading comprehension and basic math skills.

-As inclusion teachers, we would be able to provide access to our other IEP students across the curriculum with the teachers we co-teach with. We could break the class into small groups and provide direct instruction in the general education classroom and then design activities for small groups on the iPads.

-One of the most exciting capabilities of this technology is that students will receive immediate feedback from apps and internet web site as to their progress.  With programs such as DropBox and Nearpod students can easily share their work with the teacher and their classmates.  Students working together in small groups will be able to brainstorm ideas, complete graphic organizers, develop a plan to solve a problem, or explain a process and then bring the team’s ideas to the attention of the teacher which will allow for corrective feedback.  Many students are motivated by this type of technology.   We are interested in the possibility of using the tablet and its technology to create a small-scale in-class version of a flipped classroom.  While some students are receiving direct instruction, others will be front-loaded with information on the next lesson.

Although we’ve only been out of school for a week, I will admit, I’m already in the planning stages for next fall.  A tiny part of me is holding out on the hope that iPad activities will fill one column of my lesson plans.  As I sit and create lessons for the first few stories, I keep asking myself, “How would this work on the iPad? What apps would work in place of this?”

And then I think….”If I don’t get the iPads…..”

If I don’t get them, I will regain three days of my summer vacation back, because anyone who receives a grant has to attend a 3 day training in either June or July.

I am ready to just find out either way.

Have you ever written a grant?

What was it for?

How did it change your classroom?

Share your story in the comments!

Easy Access to All My Handouts

You may or may not have noticed I created a page called “Easy Access.”  I decided to put all of my graphic organizers and handouts in one place, organized by subject/topic.

I will be updating it regularly, as I post new handouts and notes.

As always, please feel free to use these and let me know how they are working (or not working) for you.

Stumbled Upon: Free Language Stuff

I stumbled upon this great blog with hundreds of free worksheets in both Word and in PDF versions. These activities were created by a speech therapist and are great for elementary and special education students.


These activities are simple, varied, and unique…a sentence mazes, sentences drops, bulls-eyes, and many, many more neat ideas.

Here is a menu from the blog to show you the topics that are covered.


If you are looking for bell ringers, independent work, or simple ideas you can easily put up on the SMART Board….check it out.

The wheels are turning….so many possibilities!!
How will you use these resources?

Today You Will Need…..

Each day when my Resource Room students come to class, this is what they see on the SMART Board.


By using the “order” tool in the draw menu I can layer the icons and hide them behind the large purple box.


As you can see from the screen shot below, I have customized all sorts of icons that I can drag to the main page.


This is a very quick and easy way to prepare students for class that I just came up with this past year. (Prior to that, it was a list on the board.) If there was ever a day when I did not have the screen up and ready when my first student came in, he would be all over me. “Are we not doing anything today???!” He always took it upon himself to pass out the materials and supplies for all the students. Talk about a useful tool.

How do you let your students know what they need each day?
What other icons would be useful?
Would you be interested in this SMARTBoard file?
Leave a comment and I’ll send it your way!

Using Graphic Organizers in History: 5 W’s

I never had an interest in history as a student and never had much experience teaching it until I did OGT (Ohio Graduation Test) tutoring. I think that year was the year I learned everything I always should have learned about history but didn’t.

It was easy for me to sympathize with my students who hated history and failed the 10th grade state test one (or more) times. I will admit that I have said more than once, “History is so in the past. Who needs it?” But, it was my job and these students needed me to teach it so they could graduate. I figured out ways to do so and now, after 3 years of 8th Grade Inclusion History, I feel like I finally almost enjoy learning about history. (I love teaching anything!)

This did not happen until I started viewing history as a story of time. Who doesn’t love a good story? Every event in history can be told as a story with characters, setting, conflict, and resolution.

I spend a lot of time making graphic organizers, study guides, and modified assessments for our history class. I get feedback from a reading specialist who uses my materials with her small group reading and writing class. Students complete the study guides, verbally talk about the events in the chapter, and then write about the events in paragraph form as well. (See how this works for a reading teacher? Students are skimming, scanning, comprehending, and synthesizing throughout this process.) It is our thinking that if they can visualize the information in the graphic organizer, talk about it, and then put it into written words, they will surely remember at least some of it.

I plan on regularly posting samples of the graphic organizers, strategies, and study materials I use with my 8th graders. Hopefully they will give you ideas to use in your classroom (in any content area). Below is my first example:

Students read the section and locate the details to tell the story.

*Here is a PDF file of an original 5W’s +1 (a blank box for additional info.) for you to download: 5ws+1

Creating Connections with Themes

In 16 years of teaching, I have found a theme: I prefer to teach in thematic units.

I love the creativity and planning aspect of thematic units.

I love finding ways to tie as many things together as possible to get a “big picture.”

I love helping kids find connections (to both other subjects and to real life.)

In my first unofficial teaching position as a K-5 leader in an all day summer day care, I planned weekly themes as required by the center. Each day we had to have fine motor, gross motor, music, reading, science, and arts and crafts activities based on the theme. As a 22-year-old, with an age range of 5-11 to work with it was a huge task and often a stretch. Talk about being creative! I can’t remember all of the themes but I do remember the following: Colors, Oceans, Transportation, Animals, Sports, Fairy Tales, and Insects. This minimum wage job ($4.25 an hour?!?!) sort of set the tone for a career of teaching in themes.

In my first official teaching position (which is worthy of its own separate post someday), I was a home instructor for five siblings with severe to moderate disabilities. This job was unique in that I had my own “classroom” on their enclosed back porch/sunroom. My lesson plans for this job were also done in themes: one letter of the alphabet every single week. This was probably not the most logical way to plan because of the complete randomness of apples, angels, and acrobats or raisins, rhyming, and railroads, but for this group of children, it worked. Again, I had to plan for activities covering a wide range of skills: math, pre-reading, writing, music, gross motor and fine motor (I worked with both a physical therapist and an occupational therapist), and speech and language (a speech therapist came once a week too.) The randomness of the alphabet pushed me to stretch my imagination and helped me think outside the box.

In my second year of teaching, I finally had my own classroom in a traditional setting. I was the teacher for the K-3 Self-Contained Special Education Class. The only inclusion in the regular classroom was for music and gym. (I got to teach my own art class!) With this position, I had a very specific curriculum and themes I was required to cover. Each month, I would receive a giant Rubbermaid tote from the curriculum office and inside I would find a huge list of suggested activities and supplies to teach the content. I was able to supplement as I wanted. My planning at the day care came in handy. Some themes I had to teach that year: Oceans, Birds, Plants, Transportation, Colors, and Community Helpers. We also did a school wide theme on America in the month of February.

From there, I moved back home to a middle school DH/MH classroom. This was a new position in the building and I had no supplies, materials, curriculum…just 9 students, 3 aides, 9 desks, and a teacher’s desk. Fortunately, my students had a lot of inclusion time so I did not have as much to plan. I spent three years in this position and I remember these themes two themes as highlights of those years: Holiday Traditions Around the World and Leaders of America.

The next three years…back to a K-5 Resource Room setting and more themes (many repeats from other positions). But three unique themes I will never forget:

  • Houses and Construction – We built gingerbread houses as a culminating activity.
  • Pumpkins – We carved 22 pumpkins at the end of that unit. What a mess! More importantly, what was I thinking?? I have to say, my 5th graders were awesome helpers with the younger kids.
  • Albuquerque, New Mexico Hot Air Balloon Festival – I could’t live much further from Albuquerque and it probably sounds like a crazy theme but my dad used to live there and had so much interesting information, I went with it. The culminating activity was making 22 paper mache hot air balloons for our own festival, which the whole school was invited to.

My next three years at the middle school level were inclusion and I was at the mercy of the general educations teachers. (Little to no opportunity to do my own thing/theme.)

At the high school level, I was working with students who failed the Ohio Graduation Test and needed additional tutoring. I spent the most time tutoring in Science and Social Studies and it was based on individual needs, which boiled down to “themes” like Plant and Animal Cells, Laws of Motion, and The Industrial Revolution.

And now I am back at the middle school and my perspective on theme has somewhat changed.

A few posts ago, I told you about the novels I use in my Resource Room: The Outsiders, Stargirl, The Giver, and The Boy in the Striped Pajamas.

Four novels, four nine week, and one common theme? Was it possible that a theme could last an entire year?

At the end of the year I ask students: “How are these four books related? Do they have a common theme?”

Here are some of the responses I have gotten in the past three years:

  • “You can’t treat people bad just because they are different.”
  • “People are discriminated against if they are different.”
  • “Everyone should be allowed to be who they want to be.”
  • “Everyone just wants to belong.”
  • “Friendships are the most important thing.”
  • “Sometimes people have to run away from their problems.”
  • “You should accept everyone.”

The definition of theme that we teach in 8th grade is:


Taken from my “Literary Terms” SMARTNotebook file.


It the above themes aren’t amazing life lessons, I don’t know what would be.

For years, I taught in themes, but now I’d like to think I teach life lessons.

What are some of your favorite thematic units?

What thematic unit would you love to do if there was room in your curriculum?

Have you ever had a theme for an entire school year?

Big Shoes to Fill

Sunday is Father’s Day and I will be on a giant family vacation at the beach. I know there will be a million tributes to amazing dads out there, but I feel like my dad deserves an honorable mention here.

Christmas 1976

As a little girl I always wanted to be a teacher. Always. In the summer, I would play school with my little sister and our babysitter’s daughter. When they didn’t want to play, I played with my dolls. (How attentive and well-behaved they were!)

My dad didn’t influence me to become a teacher, but he did influence me to become a special education teacher. He is not a teacher, in so many words, but he introduced me to working with those with disabilities and he showed me that everyone can learn.

Professionally, my dad works in the field of social work. He has used his social work skills in jobs at the Bureau of Vocational Resources and Goodwill Industries.

He’s also done a variety of other things as he is somewhat of an inventor and adventurer….he’s owned a racquetball court, worked with a team of guys developing an all-terrain vehicle, worked with the Earthwinds team on a hot air balloon that would travel around the world, built several homes (including a dome home he currently lives in), sold portable hot tubs (Softubs), and created several of his own inventions (one is a machine that sucks up styrofoam packing peanuts).

When I was in high school, my dad was running a window blind company. I worked in the office and on the floor cutting and sewing vertical blinds. He employed only a few people besides me and his good friend, who is also my godfather. The others he hired all required job coaching and vocational rehabilitation. I do not know all of their specific disabilities as my dad’s goal was to simply help them gain and then keep employment so they could be independent. I do know one man was hearing impaired. Yes, a deaf man working in a blind factory….Sounds like the start of a joke, right?

In all seriousness though, every time I was interviewed after college, my answer to “How did you decide to go into special education?” always came back to working for my dad.

For the last 20 years, I have witnessed both the philosophy and actions of a caring and wonderful man and have tried to apply it to my job as a teacher and mother.

My dad shows compassion towards others. Towards everyone….even ex-family members. I wish I could be more like him in this regard. When I am around him it is hard to speak ill of anyone. I have never seen him get upset with anyone, unless they hurt his children and even then, he doesn’t react in a angry way. I think, if anything, he is more disappointed in human behavior and the choices people make than he is angry.

My dad believes in providing opportunities for everyone. This is obvious in the work that he does daily at Goodwill. He works long hours and goes above and beyond what he is expected to do, because he wants to do it. I asked him recently if he had any plans to retire and he told me that it is not in the near future; as long as he loves his job he sees no reason to leave. He also volunteers his own time to ensure this equal access to those in our community. He has obtained many grants for our local theater to make it handicap accessible so that everyone can enjoy the productions.

My dad supports everyone’s dreams. He never says “You can’t.” or ‘You shouldn’t.” He says, “Give it a try.” He comes to every one of my son’s coach pitch games and sits with me. We joke about not knowing the score and sometimes we secretly wish for the game to end, but he is always there cheering him on.

My dad is proud of my accomplishments and never for a minute doubts that I can’t do what I set out to do. He’s seen me go through some tough times, but he always believed I would come out on top. And I have.

My dad is not afraid to make mistakes and is able to laugh at himself. In fact, that is what makes him who he is. If you know my dad, you need no explanation.

My dad has a quirky, but wonderful, sense of humor and loves to make people laugh. Prime example, the bench he designed for my son’s room:


Yes, those are my dad’s shoes. Size 22. Ok…technically they are his, but not the ones he wears. I am guessing he is about a size 9? He found these at a store and bought several pairs, envisioning all the great things he could make with them.

I keep a pair of these size 22 Nikes in my classroom…as a conversation piece. The kids love them and the boys have all tried them on at one time or another. They love it the most when I try on my dad’s shoes and “gracefully” walk around the room. As you can imagine, I have big shoes to fill.


Happy Father’s Day, Dad!

I love you!

A Happy Ending

Today was our “graduation” for the 8th graders and I just have to share the most special moment because, honestly, it’s been on my mind all day long. I can’t stop thinking about it and smiling.

One of my students came through the line to shake hands with all the staff and receive his certificate. Bless his heart, he was not dressed up like the others and he was trying to hide behind a nervous smile. He reached out, looked me in the eye, shook my hand with a solid handshake, and said, “Good luck next year.”

Here I am shaking hands with 100 kids, many of which have no idea how to shake hands and I’m saying things like:
“Nice job, bud.”
“You look so nice today.”
“Have a great summer.”

And this boy….this boy who’s driven me just short of crazy many days this year…..
This boy who randomly makes me shake my head, roll my eyes, breathe deeply, count to ten, pray for sanity, silently chuckle….
This boy who has surprised me with answers, delighted me with questions, made connections I didn’t dream students in my Resource Room could make, and even made me question myself at times….
This boy who came back to say good-bye two more times before he finally left today….
This boy wished me good luck….

I so didn’t see that coming. It made me shake my head, blink back a tear, and smile. It made my day.

A Picture Is Worth…2 or 4 Points

Do you spend a lot of time teaching your students how to answer short answer and extended response questions for state tests?

Do you do daily journal writing (or do you wish you had enough time to do journal writing?)

Do your students hate it?

I have a fun way to tackle it all.

Using pictures, images, and photos gathered from various places, I create writing prompts that model the wording of constructed response questions.

To get started, you are going to need to gather a lot of pictures.

  • You can use your own if you are an aspiring photographer and have the time. It might be fun to include images from your own town.
  • Look for creative writing websites that provide a daily photo prompt. One of my favorites: 365 Picture Prompts to Inspire Your Creativity.  Go to this website every day this summer and you’ll have almost 90 random pictures to get the year started. Another good site that also offers tips and a starter set of photo prompts is Picture Prompt-In-A-Box
  • Find images online. The possibilities are endless. Sometimes I search for pictures related to what we are studying. Sometimes I just use random pictures I find while browsing.

To organize your prompts, find a system that works for you. Some suggestions:

  • Post your photo prompt online if your school uses Edmodo or another social learning network.
  • Create folders or photo albums on your computer.
  • I use a single SMART Notebook file and simply add a new page each day. I am able to type the prompt below the picture (and then clone the page if I need to modify it for another class).

I start each day with a photo prompt on the SMART Board. At the start of the year, we spend a lot of time discussing the parts of the question, what makes it a 2-point or 4-point question, and how to mark their answers with numbers to show that they have answered it completely.

To mix things up, allow students to respond in different ways throughout the week. Again, find what works for you and your students. You could use spiral notebooks, composition books, dry erase boards, computers, or personal electronic devices. Our school is piloting Bring Your Own Technology (BYOT) next year, so I hope to have my students use an app (like Pages or Notes) or Edmodo from time to time.

While students are writing, circulate around the room and help individuals with weak skills. This is a good opportunity for one-on-one intervention. If you are working on a particular skill in grammar, you could reinforce it as well.

Encourage a few students to share their writing each day. Because this method leaves some room for creativity, you may find you have some budding authors. Each week, take a grade on one of the prompts. Sometimes I grade for content. Sometimes I grade grammar and mechanics.

Below are some examples I’ve used in my 8th grade Resource Room.

(The last two show some of the markings we use for Extended Response.)




Do your students write every day?

Where do you get your topics?

How do you practice short answer and extended response?

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