Friday, April 30, 2010

Capturing the Class' Attention: Signals for the Elementary Years

Recently, I found myself caught off guard in another teacher's classroom without a signal that would be appropriate for her group of students.  After sweating it out for a few seconds, I remembered a signal that was used at a recent training I attended.  "If you hear me, clap once." (Clap.)  "If you hear me, clap twice."  (Clap, clap.)  The signals I use with own students were developmentally too young for her group. This led me to investigate different ways to get a whole class' attention. 

Here is a list of signals I use and some that I have learned from other teachers:
  • Clap a rhythm and the students repeat it back
  • "If you hear me clap once." (Students clap once.)  "If you hear me clap twice" (Students clap twice.)  "If you hear me clap three times."  (Students cap three times.)
  • "Give me a clap."  (clap clap)  "Give me a snap." (snap snap)
  • Use a hand signal such as holding up a hand and saying "Give me five."  Each finger represents one of the following expectations which should be taught explicitly to students.

                         1. Eyes on the speaker
                         2. Quiet
                         3. Be still
                         4. Hands free
                         5. Listen

    I recommend that any teacher who uses this signal with students with developmental delays, speech and language needs, or English language learners also uses a poster to visually remind students of the expectations when the "Give me five" signal is given.  The "Give me five" signal is from The First Days of School by Harry K. Wong and Rosemary T. Wong.  
  • Teacher chants, "One, two, three.  Look at me."  Students respond, "One, two eyes on you."
  • Sound a bell, chime, triangle, or other musical instrument.
  • Teacher raises her hand, then the students raise their hands.
  • Teacher says, "Hocus, pocus" and students continue, "Let's all focus."
  • Sing "The Echo Song" to the tune of "Are You Sleeping?" 
                         Be my echo (Be my echo)
                         Listen up (Listen up)
                         Sitting in our chairs (Sitting in our chairs)
                         Voices (voices off)
  • Allow your class to decide on a silly code word or phrase, to be their signal for attention and quiet.  Some examples include:  macaroni and cheese, green eggs and ham, we eat worms.  
Before you use a signal in the classroom, be sure to explain, model, and practice appropriate responses to the signal with your students.  Never expect students to know how to respond to a signal if you have not explicitly taught them that, "When I [turn out the lights], I expect you to [have your voice off and freeze where you are]."

Do you have a signal you would like to share?  Inform the readers at Teaching and Tech Tinkerings by sending a comment.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Making Writing Centers Accessible for All through Voki

My most challenging center is my writing center. Most of my first graders are not quite yet able to read and comprehend written directions. By the time they rotate to the writing center, they forget most orally stated directions. Pictorial directions have helped with routines, and I allow free writes on topics of choice or picture cards for topics. They have access to all of the usual items a writing center has: lists, notepads, booklets, etc.

This week, I have decided to offer my students the opportunity to write to a writing prompt via their favorite tool- the internet. Each writing assignment, incorporated into the science content area lesson on storms, will ask students to respond to a pictorial weather scene and a Voki avatar verbally describing the scene. The student will be expected to write about the type of storm depicted. Students will be able to replay the writing prompt as many times as necessary. Here is a sample of a Voki we will use:

At the end of the week, students will create their own Voki avatars and describe a weather phenomenon for their peers to define. They will need to first write their description before recording it. During science, the avatars will be used to informally assess students on their ability to identify storms. My hope is that my students will be able to use the writing center independently, remain fully engaged throughout the writing time, practice writing, and reinforce science content at the same time.

Please share your favorite writing center tips and tricks in the comments section.

Classroom Project Funds- Where Can We Find the Money We Need?

Looking for funds for an exciting project? Or maybe you need the basics such as copy paper, crayons, and art supplies.

Check out these reviews of funding sources:

Heard of Classwish?
Donors Choose - Worth the Wait

Go directly to the sources:


Best wishes. Let us know how your funding search goes.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Autism Visual Aids Series #1: Show, Don't Tell

"A picture is worth a thousand words."
- Napoleon Bonaparte

What are visual aids?

The vast majority of children with autism depend on visual aids for organization, behavior support, social skills development, and comprehension. That being said, so do people who are neurotypical (without autism.)  So far this week, I have used several visual supports:

to do list
lesson plans
city map
street signs
day planner
sticky notes
grocery list
tv guide
store map

    How do visual aids help students with autism spectrum disorders?

    One of the characteristics of autism is impaired language.  So expecting a person with autism to take in verbal directions, understand them, remember them, and then follow through on them is a bit unrealistic.  I remember my friend and I being lost in Japan immediately after my arrival at the airport.  We knew very little Japanese.  When we pulled over for directions, I mustered up enough language to ask how to get to our destination.  However, I could not understand the verbal directions the man gave us.  He spoke too fast for my ability and there were words I did not know.  Noticing my confused facial expression, the man drew us a map.  That map got us home.

    "I see and I remember."
    Similar to the example above, our kids with autism spectrum disorders have difficulty with language.  As in my own scenario, they may struggle to make sense of what is being said.  Unfortunately, even if they are trying really hard to understand, spoken words disappear as they are produced.  This transient nature of spoken language makes processing and remembering verbal language difficult.  However, visual supports such as the written word or pictures, do not disappear.  Further, drawings, photographs, and actual objects can represent ideas and remove the added step of the student having to construct meaning or come up with a mental image.  You can re-read an item on a calendar as many times as you need to.

    Future posts at Teaching and Tech Tinkerings will provide examples of visual aids designed to assist individuals with autism.  Check back for images and descriptions of a picture schedule, a task list, and a first...then...grid. 

    Readers Respond

    Are there any visual aids you cannot live without? Send a comment or respond to the poll.  Results will be posted in the sidebar to the right and in the post below.

    Which Everyday Visual Aid Couldn't You Give Up?

    Saturday, April 3, 2010

    5 Steps to Helping Kids Who Hate Noise screeching down a chalkboard.  The booming bass on a car stereo.  These are just a couple of sounds many people find irritating.  For students with autism or other disabilities that affect sensory processing, many sounds that we take for granted can be difficult to ignore.  The humming of fluorescent lights, the swishing and gurgling sounds of a flushing toilet, and the crackle that comes through the speakers for the morning announcements can be sources of angst for a child with noise sensitivity.  Each child is unique, so what triggers one student may not bother the next and vice versa.  The sounds not only lead to distraction, but may also induce a fight or flight response that brings about a meltdown.

    1.  Name the Noise
    Help your student make a list of sounds that he finds so irritating that it interferes with his work, mood, or ability to interact with others.

    2.  Give the Reason for the Racket
    For each sound, discuss why the sound occurs.  For example, the fire alarm is loud and makes a strange sound so that people will want to leave the building.  This is to keep us from staying in the building if there is a  fire. The noise is to keep us safe. 

    3.  Label the Noise as Passing or Persistent
    Let the student know if an irritating sound that is currently present is likely to continue to occur.  This is important because the student may want you to make the noise stop.  Unfortunately, many of the sounds in the school setting that set off a student cannot be avoided.    You cannot make Ava stop scratching her head because it irritates Brian.  On the other hand, if a sound is in the environment temporarily, such as a fire alarm, then by all mean, emphasize the temporary nature of the sound.  The point of working on the student's sound sensitivity is to learn coping strategies in a world filled with sound.

    4.  Teach the Use of Tools and Techniques
    There are many tools and strategies that can help a student who is sensitive to sound.  Here are some to try out:

    • noise-canceling headphones
    • earplugs
    • mp3 player with music the student enjoys and headphones
    • white noise machine
    • fan
    • putting hands over the ears (for sudden noises)
    • access to a quiet place (a part of the classroom, a pass to another room)
    Be sure to work out a plan for where these items will be kept and who is responsible for implementing their use.  Ideally, the student will become independent with their use.  However, you may want to keep some items in teacher storage and have the student request their use (e.g. mp3 player, fan.)  Noise-canceling headphones can be kept in the student's cubby, desk, locker, or other central storage location. Be clear about the expectations for storing, obtaining, caring for, and using these items.  To avoid misunderstandings, specify if there are periods of time when and locations where these items cannot be used (e.g. when working on articulation during speech.)  Congratulate the student for using strategies to cope with sounds in his environment!

    5.  Plan for Noisy Times
    Some noise is predictable.  For example, many students who are sensitive to noise bring their headphones to the cafeteria and the gym.  These are places where students are louder and sounds echo off the walls.  I had one student wear his headphones at recess and this enabled him to climb on the play structures.  Without the headphones, he was too overwhelmed to climb and played alone most of the time. 

    Depending on your student's language and cognitive ability, you may wish to help him predict situations in which noise could become a trigger.  Develop a graphic organizer or a cartoon that depicts:
    1. the situational trigger (e.g. students sees the teacher getting ready to show a video clip),
    2. the student thinking, "I think I'm going to hear some noise, but I know what I can do," and 
    3. the student using a tool or a technique to cope with the situational trigger (the student puts on noise-canceling headphones).

    Plan for situations that may be too overwhelming.  If there is an assembly with loud music running for 2 hours, then you might want to plan an exit strategy. Let the student know how he can communicate with you that he needs a break.