Why should I incorporate novels in my class?
This is my third year teaching Language Arts in the middle school and I can honestly say I LOVE IT! Over the years I have watched students grow in so many ways and I think it is because of the novels that we read. Students who typically have a difficult time engaging in class are sitting for extended periods of time and following along with the novel. So the big question is, what about these novels is engaging students and opening their minds to learning.
Where to Start
The first thing that I do in the beginning of the year is get to know my students reading levels and interests. I try to find a novel that is of interest to the students so that it is something they will enjoy. Next I choose 4-5 novels and have the students take a vote on which book they would like to read. After choosing the book we do a little prereading and get to know the author. I ask students to make predictions of what they think the book may be about. When we begin reading we go over character traits, plot, setting, vocabulary, descriptive words, etc. You can pretty much use any goals and incorporate them to the book!
The book is over now what do I do ?
Now the fun begins!! When you are finished reading the book have the students choose characters that they are drawn to. After voting assign students roles and begin acting out scenes. The past two years we have created our very own movie version of the book. This has given students the opportunities to write lines, create scenery, practice speaking and communication, etc. Not only are students using all of these skills but they are building relationships with the other students who they are acting with as well as learning how to put themselves in someone else's shoes. For example, the student that is acting like the cowardly lion from The Wizard of Oz needs to express the emotions that the lion portrays and practice being that character.
Reading novels is such a great way to engage students and teach them any language arts goals in a fun and motivating way. According to one of my past students “It is fun. Acting out the books and making a movie is spectacular.” What a great vocabulary word he used in that statement!!! - Samantha Losurdo, Teacher, Celebrate the Children
Sensory play is any activity that stimulates the senses, which include the five senses: touch, smell, sight, taste, and sound.
Sensory play is an important part of a child's development; all five senses must work together in order to experience the world around us. Children learn through their senses, the touch of sandpaper, the smell of a flower, the sight of a blue bird, the taste of a lemon, and the sounds of music. It’s making sense and organizing all that stimuli that comes through senses, that a child begins to learn how their bodies function. So how does sensory play involve all of the five senses? It uses the five senses, and strengthens our experiences and understanding in the world we live in.
When you think of sensory most of us think tactile, but in sensory play it's more than touch, it involves using all of our senses in play. Sensory play reinforces language, fine motor skills, gross motor skills, problem solving, motor planning, thinking, creative play and it can also be used as a calming tool.
How do you get your child involved in sensory play? This type of play enhances learning through hands on activities that stimulates a child's senses. There are many things you can make with ingredients from home that are great sensory play ideas. To name a few: play doh, slime, sensory rice bags, homemade pizza and calming bottles. Many of the recipes can be found online, make a list of some of the things you can do with your child and pick one to do each day.
When making, for example, slime:
1) Write down the ingredients, “let’s write down what we need to make the goo.”
2) Work together to gather the ingredients, “can you get the flour for me?”
3) Build anticipation “this slime is going to be so gooey.”
4) Don’t do for your child what they are capable of doing for themselves. If your child has weak gross and fine motor skills, work hand over hand, if needed.
5) Once all your ingredients are in a bowl, have your child put his hands in and mix it together. “ wow that must feel so gooey!” “you’re doing a great job mixing!”
By taking things that you already have in the house you can create many fun experiences for you and your child. These activities will allow a child to explore, create, and communicate. When a child is allowed to use his senses, they will learn from the experience and retain more information.
The senses shape our experiences and when we draw attention to our senses and discuss them, children begin to get a better understanding of and communicate about the world we live in.
Sensory play is calming for children, not only does it help a child regulate, it also helps your child in finding a source to regulate his/her internal discomfort. The slime you made with your child may be the tool he/she needs to support their sensory system and your child just learned what he/she needs in order to find comfort.
-Lissette Gray, L3 Paraprofessional, Celebrate the Children
"Girls Just Wanna Have Fun" is the theme in my "All Girl" class every day! I went to an "All Girl" high school and what I thought was going to be horrible at first, became something I am truly grateful for. Girls being silly, letting loose, and openly sharing girl issues make for some really close friendships that last a lifetime. I have made many friends I consider sisters to this day.
I feel the same way about teaching in an "All Girl" class. There is something about girls having time to socialize without boys around. We all talk about girl issues and feel the power of sisterhood around us. Girls dancing, singing, painting, playing ball, scrapbooking, brushing hair, doing nails, and putting on makeup together really builds self-esteem in a very fun-loving environment. There is always a "You Go Girl" vibe in the class and a camaraderie that continues to build every day. The girls really get to know each other. They are in-tune to the feeling of each other and often show signs of caring for one another. Many students will make a bracelet or craft and want to give it to a friend. The classroom is decorated to fully embrace our "Girl Power" attitude and we all benefit from it!
Though I know the girls love seeing the boys in other classes, it is apparent that we all enjoy our "Girl Time" together!
Lisa Silva, Teacher, Celebrate the Children
How long do you pause, on average, after asking a student a question? Do you attempt to answer the question for them or call on another student to fill the empty void?
Researchers have studied the amount of time teachers paused after asking a question and the effect it had on its learners. The average length of time that the teachers typically paused was found to be 0.9 seconds. Recent studies have shown that pausing for at least 5 to 15 seconds has a much more positive impact on a student's ability to express themselves effectively.
As a Special Education teacher of students with processing and motor skill challenges, I can attest to the importance of providing sufficient pause (processing) time. Additional wait time enables my students the time they need to process information, organize their thoughts and prepare a verbal, written or typed response. Since every student processes information at their own individual pace, I encourage all teachers to grant them additional pause time and marvel at their amazing responses!
-Debbie Castelluccio, Teacher, Celebrate the Children
Several months ago, a student, who types to communicate, shared his interest in “superheroes”. After expressing this interest, he was interested to hear that there are other students and staff members who have a passion for superheroes as well.
This communication has turned into the development of a weekly “SUPERHEROES GROUP” spearheaded by Karen Campbell.
Every Thursday morning, in a high school classroom friends come together for this group. Students with varying communication abilities join together with self-proclaimed “superhero nerds”, Jon and Jordan. The group has discussed recent movie releases, favorite characters, comic books and have even engaged in an awesome conversation on how autism is portrayed in this genre. Everyone participates and are happy to share their thoughts and opinions with the group and even, on occasion, debate when their views are different.
This group started out with a couple participants and as time has gone on, more students have opted to stay and participate. This is a wonderful way for our kids to connect, relate, and engage with each other over a shared passion for something where everyone feels respected, included, and proud. This has become an hour both students and staff look forward to every week and shows how much our students are able to participate when they are given a chance to engage in something they are passionate about. Friendship, conversation and most of all SUPERHEROES!!
- Lisa Romaine, Supported Communication Teacher, Celebrate the Children
There’s a lot of buzz these days about home assistive devices, like Amazon Echo and Google Home. But did you know that these tools can serve as assistive technology (AT) for kids with various learning and communication challenges?
For example, these devices are being used to help with spelling, sounding out words, solving basic math problems, and supporting kids to stay on schedule. You and your child can work together to see what could be of assistance and explore various fun games as well. While this is a new technology, coming up with ways to help you and your child in the home might be very interesting.
Student and Family Support Services, Celebrate the Children
What is Gamify? Gamify is when you transform your classroom and/or activities into a game. It isn't all about just fun- games can be about finding solutions to serious problems!
Have you ever thought of how a video game can be brought into the classrooms as an educational aid? Balancing the time students play board or video games requires monitoring, but some reassurance can come in when one realizes that there are studies that show games, both video and board games, can be educational. Adopting old-school games such as scrabble helps with vocabulary and spelling, while bingo helps with visual scanning and social-skills. Video games such as Rollercoaster Tycoon teaches supply and demand and microeconomics. Civilization, another video game, teaches about history and economics. Chess is a great game to teach problem solving, risk, and reward. One thing they all teach is hand-eye coordination. There are many ways to gamify your classroom. Have fun playing!
Kevin Guldner, Teacher, Celebrate the Children
What is Gamification and Why Use It in Teaching?
The holidays can be a very stressful time with all the shopping, traffic, and running around but have no fear! I have found some very simple ways to get rid of stress and actually enjoy the holidays.
First, while I'm out shopping and stuck in traffic, I turn on the holiday music to hum and sing along. This puts me in a great mood and allows me to be kind to others on the road, even when they are not so kind to me. ;)
Second, making the time to drive around and look at the neighborhood decorations and lights is something I always enjoyed as a child and still do today. It not only gives me a warm nostalgic feeling, but it also brings out holiday spirit and joy.
Finally, my third stress reliever is a guided meditation on YouTube. The man's voice, as well as the musical sounds, are both so calming, you just can't help but relax. My students love it! Here is the link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1vx8iUvfyCY
I hope these activities are as helpful to you as they are to me. Plus, they are free! Happy Holidays! May you relax and enjoy the season!
Jackie Giganti, Teacher, Celebrate the Chilren
Self-regulation is more than sensory regulation. Our sensory kids have several other things that fill them up with challenges all day – emotions, academic and cognitive tasks, physical activities, social interactions, language demands and the ebb and flow of hunger, thirst and tired and alert cycles. There are so many things filling our kids’ cups. So what happens when we add challenges in sensory processing to the mix?
Sometimes it’s obvious – my son is sensitive to smell, sound and touch. If we walk into a busy restaurant full of new aromas, sounds and touch experiences and he has a meltdown this is an expected meltdown as his “cup” is overflowing with sensory demands. However, sometimes it’s not this obvious. We can be at home resting at the end of the day with no noise, smells or unexpected touch and he can have a meltdown. Is this then behavior? It must be, right? There is “no sensory” around. BUT, what is in his cup?
Let’s call it sensory residue. You know, that leftover coffee at the bottom of your coffee cup that you didn’t quite get to finish this morning? What happens if you add more coffee to that cup? It overflows, right?
Our sensory kids’ cups are typically occupied by some level of sensory challenge throughout the day. They experience uncomfortable or challenging sensorimotor experiences that they often have learned to cope with them. These sensory experiences then become the residue on their cup. When they cope with the sensations they aren’t making them disappear, they are pushing them aside for the time being so that they can meet the other demands of the situation.
Sensations then take up space in their cup that would otherwise be available for other demands – unless their cups are emptied (we’ll get to that in a bit). For my son, he also struggles with anxiety, as many of our sensory kids do. In the example above, upon further investigation of his “cup” he coped with all of the sensations throughout the day and now he arrives home to find out that we are having houseguests. His “cup” starts to fill with social demands as well as anticipated sensory experiences (what if our guest wears perfume or tries to touch him) just to find out that there is no room left in his “cup” due to the sensory residue leftover from the day. With the sensory ‘residue’ taking up space, and adding the social and anticipated sensory demands of the moment, he has a meltdown.
So was it a sensory meltdown? I would argue it was. We have to understand that our sensory kids start with a cup that is somewhat full already as compared to children who do not have difficulties processing sensory information. They will be less able to cope with the daily social, academic, emotional, and physical demands as they arise if support is not given to empty their cup of the sensory residue.
However, if our kids have the opportunity to empty their “cup” throughout the day these meltdowns can be avoided. So we need to find a balance for our sensational kids.
When we look at the average day – what is trying to fill his “cup”? Identify things throughout the day that are challenging – certain sensory experiences, social interactions, academic subjects, demands of physical skill, times of emotional tension, times of hunger or tiredness.
Look again for things that help to empty his “cup”. Identify things throughout the day that are joyful and calming – listening to music, getting big bear hugs, hearing the schedule of the day, playing with his favorite friend, eating his favorite snack, playing in the fidget bin, drinking from a straw cup, running an errand for the teacher, jumping on the trampoline, choosing 2 of 4 center activities, resting on the couch with a show.
Now how do we keep the “cup” at the just right level? Determine how full each challenging activity makes the “cup” and how much each joyful/calming activity empties the “cup”. Play the fill and empty game by interspersing these activities in the best way possible to keep the “cup” from overflowing.
Teach your sensational kid about their cup and let them play the fill and empty game with you! Use this example to bring light and play to self-regulation. You can even get a cup and fill and empty it as you have this discussion with them. Most importantly, try to make this a fun activity!
What is in your child’s cup?
Michele Parkins MS, OTR
Owner at Great Kids Place
Michele Parkins is an occupational therapist, specializing in working with children with autism and sensory processing disorder. She is also a parent of two sensory kids. She works and lives sensational kids! Michele is a fellow of Dr. Lucy Jane Miller, OTR and faculty of Sensory Processing Disorder Foundation. She is faculty of Profectum academy, educating professionals on cognitive, social and emotional development using the DIR-FCD model.She co-developed a unique handwriting program – Connect Experience Write® – that highlights the importance of affective engagement in learning as well as sensory integration using music and movement to teach letter formation and pre-writing skills. Michele is passionate about working with families and other therapists and she continues to do so as a clinician and educator. She also continues to provide consultation to schools as she has done for over 10 years. Follow her on Facebook for updates and tips!
In September, my class decided to be adventurous and plant a garden. Keep in mind, I do not have a green thumb whatsoever. The students researched vegetation that was safe to plant in September, including lettuce, collard greens, spring mix, and white carrots. We voted as a class and decided that we should try lettuce, collard greens and carrots. The students placed an order on Amazon and patiently awaited their arrival to our classroom (thank goodness for prime shipping). After our seeds arrived, the students walked out to the garden where we were in charge of caring for a garden bed. The bed had weeds in it so the students independently needed to weed and rake out the bed and prep it for our seeds. The students prepped the area, dug little holes, poured the seeds in and covered them up with soil. The students marked the seeds using popsicle sticks and watered the seeds. We waited and waited and checked on the garden. After 3 weeks, no signs of life were showing and I told the students we tried our best, but it was unsuccessful for our first attempt so we will try again in the spring. We kept positive and a few days later, it was brought to my attention that there was some greenery growing in our garden.
In amazement, our class went outside and did indeed observe some growth in our garden! Since that day, we have been working hard to maintain our garden. Our class has been taking turns watering the garden and raking out the leaves and weeds. The class has gone outside and collected lettuce leaves and white carrots, brought them into the classroom where we learned and discussed how to clean them, and sent them home to share with their families. My class and students love to work in the garden, and it can be a hands-on and fun way to teach concepts from early literacy to math. All of the details that have been put into our growing garden have been a success in our classroom community! -Jamie Klimek, Teacher, Celebrate the Children
Contributions to this blog are made by Celebrate the Children's highly talented, interdisciplinary team and wonderful families.