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So Long, Farewell!

Today has been a very bittersweet day… I work with the drama teacher at school, and our students’ final performance of The Sound of Music took place tonight.  With only six days left in the school year, I HAD to bite the bullet and start breaking my classroom down for summer storage.  Plus, this will be my last blog post as your special education blogger!  I will really miss having the opportunity to dialogue with the special education community online.  As I leave, I want to share a few final thoughts on the end of the school year with my students, as a blogger this year, and where I am headed next!

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Clearing Up Decertification Uncertainties

Wow, I can’t believe we only have twelve days left in the school year!  It seems like the time has flown so fast and that the time we have left is slipping away before me.  One thing I am definitely taking time to do in my classroom, however, is make sure that the four children who we are decertifying from our CTT class are prepared for their transition to middle school.  The decertification process itself is not complicated, but the decision TO decertify a student from special services and transitioning that student to full-time general education is more complex.  I’m going to share with you the “5 Ws + How” it works in my classroom and some thoughts on meeting your own students’ needs when special services are no longer necessary or appropriate.

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End-of-year Goal-Setting

Today was a professional development day in the New York City public schools.  My school staff made the long trek up to White Plains for a day of team building and focus on a new curriculum we will use for reading comprehension next year.  Our last rotation for the day focused on goal-setting with our students and how we will try next year to implement a monthly goal-setting routine with our students where we work with them to identify their strengths, weaknesses, and next steps.  

I’m sure this is something we all use at the beginning of the year, and many of us continue to set goals for and with our students along the way.  I feel like I have overlooked in the past the value of setting goals at the end of the year, and I know that I will definitely be spending some time over the next three weeks setting goals and establishing frameworks with my current students for how to stay focused during the summer and into middle school, and how these goals connect to their longer-term hopes and dreams.  

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Idle Hands? Not In Our Class!

While the school year draws to a close in some parts of the country, we here in New York City still have about another month to go!  I’m starting to think about our end of the year, and as we plan our fifth graders’ senior trip (a camping experience in upstate New York), ‘prom,’ and graduation ceremony, I am finding myself both happy the end of the year is nearing and full of urgency to cram in that last bit of learning! Today, I want to give you a look inside my classroom right now in terms of our last few academic activities as well as offer some suggestions for sustaining energy for learning when the weather gets warmer and summer vacation fever approaches.

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Now I Know My ABCs: (A)necdotals can (B)e (C)ritical!

Although we try our hardest to set up behavior management systems that anticipate, pre-empt, or prevent conflicts, outbursts, or undesirable actions; unfortunately, every teacher knows that 100% prevention is a complete impossibility.  How we choose to handle behavior problems will vary depending on the specific child and classroom context, but regardless of how a situation gets handled, it is important to keep clear, concise, and objective records, or ‘anecdotal records,’ of behavior incidents.  There are several good reasons for this and several different ways to keep these records… don’t feel locked in, but it is important to try to find a method that works for you and be consistent with it.  Click here to download the tool I use, and feel free to alter or reproduce it to meet your needs! Download Anecdotal record sheet

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Five Tips for Successful Field Trips

For special needs students, who often thrive on routine and consistency, field trips can be daunting.  However, they also represent an opportunity for engaging, motivating, authentic, and highly relevant learning experiences.  Students with special needs are definitely entitled to be exposed to the unique opportunities field trips provide, and teachers can take some preparatory steps for their students to ensure that these trips are productive and meet their students’ needs.

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April: Autism Awareness Month

Autism awareness  Have you seen people walking around with puzzle piece pins on their shirts?  These people are reminding  us that April is national Autism Awareness Month.  During April, parents, students, and educators all over the country band together to support autism awareness and research.  The symbol for autism awareness has been selected as a puzzle piece, which I think is fitting for so many reasons!  Autism’s causes are a puzzle.  Its mechanism is a puzzle.  Behavior of people with autism can be very puzzling as well.  Additionally, a puzzle piece is an integral part of a whole, just as people with autism are an integral part of our communities.  While autism itself is puzzling, one alarming statistic isn’t:  one in every 150 children in this nation will develop autism or a related developmental delay by age three.  We owe it to students and families currently living with autism as well as our future students to use April as a springboard for advocating for research on this mystifying condition.

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Spread the Word to End the (R) Word

Tomorrow, on March 31st, the Special Olympics will join with actor John McGinley (Dr. Cox in Scrubs!), father of a child with Down’s syndrome, to raise awareness about the use of the R-word and its effects on people with intellectual disabilities.  As a teacher in a special-needs classroom, this news immediately caught my eye, and I hope to use the nationwide event tomorrow as a call to action to teach tolerance and reduce intellectually-based hate speech in my classroom. 

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The ARRA and IDEA

On February 17th, President Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), his $787 billion economic stimulus plan.  The ARRA will hopefully represent a step in the right direction for our economy at large, but for special educators, it also signifies a huge commitment on behalf of the Obama administration to students with disabilities.

The ARRA allocates $12.2 billion in funding for programs under IDEA, including $11.3 billion to Part B (school-age children, K-12), $400 million to Section 619 (for pre-school programs), and $500 million to Part C (infants and family services).  This bill will serve to directly provide funding for state special education programs and represents the largest federal expenditure on special education since IDEA’s passage in 1975.  IDEA provides that 40% of states’ special education expenditure will be covered by federal monies, and the ARRA nearly doubled the amount of funding provided to 25%.  Still a ways off from the goal of 40%, but a definite step in the right direction!

On February 17th, President Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), his $787 billion economic stimulus plan.  The ARRA will hopefully represent a step in the right direction for our economy at large, but for special educators, it also signifies a huge commitment on behalf of the Obama administration to students with disabilities.

The ARRA allocates $12.2 billion in funding for programs under IDEA, including $11.3 billion to Part B (school-age children, K-12), $400 million to Section 619 (for pre-school programs), and $500 million to Part C (infants and family services).  This bill will serve to directly provide funding for state special education programs and represents the largest federal expenditure on special education since IDEA’s passage in 1975.  IDEA provides that 40% of states’ special education expenditure will be covered by federal monies, and the ARRA nearly doubled the amount of funding provided to 25%.  Still a ways off from the goal of 40%, but a definite step in the right direction!

I am really excited about this event because I think it represents a huge mindset shift in our administration.  I am particularly motivated by the educational research expenditures planned in the ARRA and that funds are specifically earmarked for research that impacts students with disabilities.  As students with disabilities are increasingly able to be accommodated within their home district schools due to advances in research, adaptive technology, and educational best practice, we can move forward as educators and as a nation toward truly meeting the mandate of IDEA and providing each student with a 'free and appropriate public education.'

I am also very encouraged by the fact that ARRA provides funding for leadership and professional development for special education as I think it will encourage more talented and energetic teachers or teaching candidates to consider the challenges of working as a special educator.  Knowing that there is financial support for teacher training really makes me feel like this important field is being given the resources it needs to be successful not just in the present, but in training its future. I am thrilled to be a special educator at this turning point and look forward to the steps the Obama administration will take toward meeting this goal!

 For more information on how the ARRA will benefit your program, check out the following:

 

The Council for Exceptional Children is one of the nation’s most-respected organizations to advocate for children with special needs and their families, and they are touting this funding as a huge victory for these individuals and the professionals that work on their behalf.

 

This is the government briefing on how the ARRA works with IDEA. If you click through this briefing, you can find information on how your state’s funds are allocated.

 

Scholastic also has some fantastic resources for learning more about ARRA and teaching it to children.

Alphabet soup got you down?  Check out my earlier post on IDEA and how it works

How do you feel about the ARRA?  Was it just a smokescreen, or do you think we will see legitimate changes as its result?  You can comment in Mozilla Firefox or email me directly at azelkowitz@schools.nyc.gov and I will post it for you. 

 


Celebrating Woman's History Month

                                              It is very iIMG_0146[1]mportant to me that my students have a thorough understanding of history and how it impacts the present.  I consider social studies 'themes' to be a particularly important way for my students to understand their place in their communities and in history at large.  Since some of my students have very little exposure to these ideas, I generally try to 'start small' and stay close to home, then situate familiar themes in a broader context.  Woman's History Month is no exception!  I encourage my students to start a personal celebration of this important national celebration by appreciating the woman heroes closest to them (in their families and school communities) and then deepen their understanding of women in history by researching a famous female. 

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in Strategies for Special Education & Inclusion Classrooms are strictly those of the author and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Scholastic, Inc.