Tag Archives: special education

Cheap and Easy (Dry Erase Boards in Your Classroom)

One of the learning tools I love to use the most is also one of my students’ favorites: dry erase boards.

Three years ago I bought a large 4′ x 8′ sheet of hardboard at Lowe’s for around $11.00. For a minimal fee they cut the board into 32 12″x 12″ boards. I think the total bill was less than $15.00. I purchased economy packs of wash cloths at Dollar General. While dry erase markers can be pricey, our team has them on the supply list (1 pack of 4 for each student). We put these markers in a huge basket and they are for general use in the classroom.

We use these boards almost every day in some capacity.

Any paper/pencil activity that can be put on the SMART Board can be done on a dry erase board. (Especially good for grammar, math problems, multiple choice activities, and fill in the blank type worksheets)

I have my students write an occasional short answer/extended response/journal entry on a dry erase board. I love when students ask if they can get another board because they don’t have room for everything they want to say.

I use them with our online textbook. It’s not very easy to get computer time in our building but by using the SMART Board and the dry erase markers, I can easily use tutorials, review activities, and vocabulary lessons with the whole class.

Dry erase boards are also a great way to do formative assessment. It’s very easy to get an overview of how well the students grasped the daily lesson.

So let me sum it up:

Pros of dry erase boards
+ Less paper/pencil tasks
+ Less photo copying and less waste
+ Allows for movement around the room (Sometimes they can sit on the back counter, the floor, away from their desks)
+ Accountability (“Everybody, boards UP!”)
+ Engaging (Everyone can answer every question, not just one student)
+ Forgiving (It’s easy to erase mistakes and try again)

Cons of dry erase boards
– Not practical for graded assignments
– Kids love to doodle. (I admit I am a “doodler”. You should see my decorated notes from staff meetings!)
– The markers stink! (I strongly recommend specifically putting low-odor markers on your supply list


The pros clearly outweigh the cons.
(Artwork by my daughter)

On a Scale of 1 to 10

The last few days of school and the natives are restless.  Today in my Resource Language Arts class we did a fun culminating activity.

To begin, we looked at a worksheet about evaluating a piece of writing. We discussed what it means to evaluate, completed the worksheet, and then the students became the evaluators.

Students lined up along the back of the room with small dry erase boards.  Their job was to rate/evaluate each piece of literature that we read this year.  I started at the beginning of the year and went sequentially.  Students would write a number 1-10 (1 being the lowest) and then arrange themselves in a number line from lowest to highest.

My daughter modeling the activity.

As we went through our stories, I showed them the title pages or covers of each selection. This helped spark their memory.  (Note to self: Next year, put these on the SMART Board rather than awkwardly flip through the text book.)

To keep the activity educational, I did the following things at random:

I asked individual students to provide a reason for their rating. What made you rate this selection so low? What made this a perfect 10 for you?

I quizzed them over the plot, characters, and some of the literary terms we used when we read that piece of literature. What was the setting of The Tell-Tale Heart?  Which character was the protagonist in The Outsiders? What was Leo’s internal conflict in Stargirl?

I helped students find and explain the patterns of their ratings. Some things we noticed: The boys preferred science fiction and horror stories. Those who hate to read out loud rated the plays lower than the other types of literature.  Overall, students rated our novels (The Outsiders, Stargirl, and The Boy in the Striped Pajamas) higher than our short stories out of our literature book.

Allowing the students to stand and move was a great way to direct their energy at this crazy time of year.  I know some people use a number line already posted in their room, but the use of dry erase boards made everyone accountable and honestly, what student doesn’t love dry erase boards?

This activity was beneficial to me as well, as it served as a kind of formative assessment. What did they learn? What do they remember? What did they enjoy? What did they dislike?  This will help me in my planning and instruction next year.

Do you do any end of the year surveys or review games?

How would you change this activity to fit your class?
On a scale of 1 to 10, how was your year?


I’d give the 2011-12 school year a rating of 9.0
(Artwork by my 12-year-old daughter)

Speaking of Patience…

I admitted in my previous post that sometimes I struggle to be patient…especially when I get a good idea for my classroom. I tend to leap right into things and can find myself (or my students) frustrated.

After spending (and in hindsight, sometimes wasting) a lot of time, here are some tips for making your own instructional materials:

Creating useful, quality learning tools takes time. When you get a good idea, work on the rough draft, let it sit, and come back to it. There is always room for improvement.

Realize there is a learning curve. Unfortunately, I only teach one section of Language Arts. My students are always the guinea pigs. If I had multiple sections, I am sure I would modify and tweak my instruction, materials, and delivery.

Don’t invest too much too early. My biggest mistake is thinking of an idea and simply running wild with it (i.e. creating multiple pages or an entire unit before I present even one lesson). Don’t create more work for yourself by working too far ahead. The layout or organization of handouts may need to be changed. Directions may be unclear. Or, worst case scenario, the idea totally doesn’t work like you thought it would and it ends up in the recycling bin.

Seek professional help. As hard as it is to be critiqued by your colleagues, share your work with a trusted and experienced co-worker. I run things by a reading specialist who works with my students. She has a very similar philosophy and understands what my goals and expectations are

Take on a student perspective. If you are making a handout, worksheet, graphic organizer, or study guide imagine how you would react if you were the student. How does it look on paper? Do the directions make sense? What is confusing? What isn’t clear? Perhaps most importantly, make sure as a student you can answer these questions:

“Why am I doing this?”


What am I supposed to be learning?”


A Chinese Proverb that sums up what we do as teachers.

All I Need Is (Just a Little) Patience

I just got back from a 4-day 3-night trip to Washington, D.C. with our 8th graders. We had a great time, but as always, the trip required a great deal of patience as we stood in line for security at almost every location. The kids did ok with it. They enjoyed standing and talking to their friends for what seemed like hours to me.

Yes, I will admit it….I am not the most patient person.

Yet, the one thing I have probably heard more than anything in my 16 years of teaching special education is “You must be so patient!”

Patience is a virtue. One that I must work on every single day.

I must have patience with my students who struggle to read, to write, to stay organized, to behave…

I must have patience with my children at home…which after a long day at work is not always easy.

I must have patience as a consumer, a patient, a driver, a colleague, a friend, a daughter, and a sister….

And I must have patience with myself…. This is perhaps the hardest of all.

I am the kind of person that learns about something at a workshop and wants to implement it the very next day….to perfection.

I am the kind of person that wants to dive in headfirst and swim to the finish line without coming up for air.

I am the kind of person who wants answers right now so I can start working on solutions.

I am the kind of person who wants to use her blog to share big ideas, have dozens of followers and make a difference.

However, I’m figuring out the hard way that learning takes time.

I have to be patient and find what works for me when it comes to blogging and developing this blog to its full potential. One of my biggest hurdles is trying to figure out the differences between my iPad, my iPhone, and my MacBook when it comes to using WordPress. Last weekend I was so frustrated as I repeatedly made mistakes simply because I was new and learning how to use the program. My kids were sitting at the dining room table (one reading and one drawing) as I lost a draft for the 3rd time in a row. :::::insert grumble, moan, and impatient groan here::::::::: It was a good opportunity for me to keep my cool and not lose it, but also a good opportunity for me to teach them a lesson in patience. I made it a point to show them the final published post and tell them how pleased I was with it and how it made me feel to have figured it out.

The lesson I hopefully taught: Success comes with time, practice, failure, and a lot of patience.

Please be patient with me as I learn the ropes here.

Do you have extreme patience?
Are you lacking in the patience department?
Do you have any helpful advice to a newcomer?

Behind Every Hero….

One our favorite family movies is Sky High (starring Lynda Powers, a.k.a. Wonder Woman, as Principal Powers.)

In this movie, each student possesses some sort of super power (and of course will have to work together to save the world.)

The scene below is on the first day of school when the students are gathered together to demonstrate their skills and be placed in the appropriate track….either “Hero” or “Sidekick.”

Principal Powers: In a few moments, you will go through Power Placement and your own heroic journey will begin.

Will Stronghold: Power Placement?

Layla: Sounds fascist.

Ethan: Power Placement. It’s how they decide where you go.

Magenta: The hero track or the loser track.

Will Stronghold: There – there’s a loser track?

Ethan: I believe the preferred term is “Hero Support.”

In the inclusion setting, intervention teachers are often the “sidekick”. However,  if you watch the whole movie, you will see that the sidekicks are a vital part of the plot.

I am lucky to be a sidekick to Captain Algebra (her identity must remain secret to protect the citizens). She presents content in a heroic fashion while I provide support.

If you are an inclusion teacher, here are some tips for being the best hero support you can be:

Provide alternative views, tricks, and tips during lesson  – Don’t be afraid to interject during the lesson. It’s something that takes time to develop. After you work with the same teachers for a few years, it will become more natural to add your two cents during a lesson. I often share mnemonic devices or crazy things that we make up in our intervention study hall that will be helpful to everyone in the inclusion  class.

Be a role model – Ask questions and encourage discussion.  When there is a lull in the discussion or you know students must surely be wondering (but not asking questions) throw out your own questions for the teacher.  Kids will usually start talking when they think they know more than you.

Read minds – Think like the students….What doesn’t seem clear? What misconceptions do they have? As you walk around the room and look at student work you can see common mistakes and verbalize this to the teacher by “thinking out loud.” “Oh…..So you mean that I have to multiply by the reciprocal instead of dividing?”

Help citizens in need – Sit down with a student who is struggling and offer some one-on-one time while the teacher goes on ahead with the rest of the class. Sometimes if a student has missed a day or two they really need the instruction of the missed lessons before they can proceed with the current lesson.

Are you a hero or a sidekick in the classroom?

What are your responsibilities as an inclusion teacher?

If you are a regular classroom teacher, how do you utilize your inclusion teacher?

What Would You Attempt To Do If You Knew You Could Not Fail?

I have been a teacher for 16 years and it is likely I am not even halfway thru my career. I have a long way to go, lots of experience, many ideas, and dreams I have not yet pursued.

As a little girl I always dreamed of being a teacher. I had other “dream jobs too…. I wanted to be a writer and a photographer. I never felt like it was possible to do anything with these dreams.

Until now.

Why now?

Well, there are a few things you should know about me. I love teaching, reading, writing, and learning. I love talking and sharing. I love technology, designing materials, figuring out what “works”, making connections with kids, and helping kids make connections.

At this point in my life, it just makes sense to combine my dreams, my passions, and my talents. I hope to create a blog that will serve as a way to motivate myself to keep on learning, inspire others in their teaching, and benefit the students in my future….and in yours.

I am determined to do this. Failure is not an option (Thanks A.H.!)

I hope that you will come back often to see how I develop this blog. I will need your help ~ your contributions, comments, questions, thoughts, and ideas ~ to get things rolling.

Everyone has a dream. What is your dream?


Self-made poster hanging in my classroom. I knew it was a keeper when I saw it doodled on an at-risk student’s binder.

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