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Talking to Kids about Test Scores

Regardless of how we as educators try to make assessment as authentic as possible, the fact remains that state and national standardized tests are the ruler by which our teaching skills and our students’ successes are measured.  New York test scores have been trickling in during the past few weeks, and with scores themselves inevitably come many triumphs and some disappointments.  For these high-stakes tests, the results are obviously much-anticipated, but what do we do with the information when it finally arrives?  While it’s easy to excitedly share the good news when students have done well and met their goals, it can be more challenging to inform students when they did not meet their goals.  

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Sharing and Celebrating (Shy) Students' Writing

Writer's Workshop 016 Many of my special-needs students have speaking goals on their IEPs both for social reasons and due to their disability classifications as speech and language-impaired.  For this reason, it is really important that I have structures in place in my class which help my students engage in various speaking-related activities.  One way I do this is with the read-arounds I mentioned in my last post, and I realized that this structure is something I want to share with you as well!  I hope it will be as successful in your classrooms as it is in mine.

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Differentiation Squared: Writer's Workshop in a CTT Classroom

Writer's Workshop 022  We use a writer’s workshop model at my school that is similar to Lucy Calkins’ Units of Study.  In this model, a writer’s workshop (which is supposed to occur daily) should consist of a brief mini-lesson, time for guided or interactive writing, independent work time in which you conference and students work with a peer or by themselves on a project, and a sharing time for students to present their work and receive feedback from their peers.  Ideally, each completed writer’s workshop project should include five phases: brainstorming/pre-writing, rough drafting, revision, editing, and publishing. Our bulletin board projects sometimes fall off the board because they are so heavy from including the different drafts!

This model is theoretically ideal for differentiated instruction because it provides lots of time to work individually (and thus in small groups).  In the co-teaching setting, writer’s workshop is a great time to try out a different model of co-teaching or practice using the ones you already employ in a new way!  Check out one of my earlier posts for some background information on the six models of co-teaching.  Let’s take a picture walk through some student work to examine how collaborative teaching can help reach all learners during writer’s workshop.

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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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Learned Helplessness: Balancing Teacher Expectations and Student Self-esteem

Little engineOne of my fondest childhood book favorites was Watty Piper’s classic, The Little Engine that Could.  I  was thinking about the book, a simple story about the power of positive thinking, today in class while I tried to coax diphthongs on phonics cards out of one of my inclusion students who is reading on a first grade level.  I realized that there was a huge disconnect between my mindset of “I know you can do this if you continue to work hard” and her mindset of “I’m just stupid, why bother?” and I was struck by the degree to which learned helplessness, not lack of skills or capacity, inhibits my ability to make progress with some of my students with disabilities and mediates decisions I make regarding when enough is enough for a lesson or a student.

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When you filled out your last report cards, did you consider writing any of these comments for a child in your class?

“Struggles to pay attention”
“Has trouble sitting still”
“Fails to complete classwork/homework”
“Has difficulty interacting with peers”
“Does not work well in a group”
“Seems to have trouble focusing”
Or my favorite,
“Is impulsive, which interferes with learning”

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Handling Horrible Handwriting

Horrible handwritingLegible handwriting is not a concern unique to special education.  Many lower-grades teachers as well as their upper-elementary counterparts spend significant time on penmanship, only to feel like their efforts are in vain the next time students complete any writing assignment independently.  I’ve found that while some of my special needs students are developmentally appropriate in their handwriting by the time they reach fifth grade, others continue to struggle mightily with this important skill. For example, at the left is the work of a student with a (believe it or not, much improved since the beginning of the year!) handwriting deficit.  This simple vocabulary assignment took him 20 minutes to copy from our notes helper after the rest of the class had moved on. 

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Mid-Winter Recess = Well-deserved Rest!

Valentine decoration The New York City Public Schools are on vacation this week, and I am enjoying a much-needed rest.  I wanted to share with you some pictures of activities my students completed last week (since I just figured out how to work the new digital camera I received as a very belated birthday present!) for Valentine’s Day and the 100th Day of School. I came in to school on Friday to find that my easel had been decorated by some friends from another fifth grade class, and it was a great way to start the day!


For the 100th Day of School, which fell on Thursday, February 12th, my students generated one-hundred things they like about being in fifth grade.


Here are some of my favorites:100 things we love


“I like having two nice teachers.” 

“I like being a roll model (sic) for the little kids.”

“I like reading The Giver.”

“I like being able to go on the Senior Trip.”

“I like being older and more mature, and we have more responsibilities.”

“I like all of the friends and new people I have met this year.”

“I like the books in our class library.”

“I like it when we have PAT.” (Preferred Activity Time, a regulated choices period)

“I like how we get to be in class plays and do Reader’s Theater.”

“I like how our class gets along and cooperates.”


I think some of my kids may have been trying to ingratiate themselves a bit, but I appreciated their efforts. 


Valentine hearts project My students are engaged in a fiction writing unit at the moment, and part of their grammar and mechanics skills for this section includes working with dialogue.  I taught a two-tiered lesson on dialogue during a writing period last week.  The first level of students worked on simply how to incorporate dialogue into writing (where and how to punctuate, how to capitalize, where to put the quotation marks) and the more advanced students worked on placing dialogue in different locations within a sentence (before an introduction, after an introduction, surrounding an introduction, or as a stand-alone sentence). 

Destiny candy heart dialogue

I adapted Marissa Ochoa’s Candy Hearts writing lesson for use with dialogue, gave my students some candy hearts, and let them go to town.  They had a blast, and I enjoyed reading their highly-entertaining resultant dialogues. 


I am enjoying my break, but I miss my students.  One of my first activities when I get back on Monday will be to update my class library with all of the books I am acquiring over break.  Check back next week for a two-part posting bonanza on cheap, free, and fun ways to acquire books for your class library and my class’s top ten series picks, also known as my shopping/search list for the moment!

P.S. Due to a site-wide problem, the 'comments' feature has been unavailable for a while.  If you have any comments or questions, please email me directly, azelkowitz@schools.nyc.gov and I will reply or post your comment when the glitch is worked out.  Thank you!

Serious Solutions for Serious Behaviors

One of my general education students has been having a REALLY. ROUGH. TIME.  We all have students who have occasional bad days, but this student has been experiencing some severe distress for a while now.  He has regular tantrums, doesn’t relate well to his peers, and is often very disruptive to my generally productive, happy classroom learning environment.  While my first step as a teacher is to examine what role I or my instruction or my classroom environment is playing in this student’s behavior, it is often necessary to look beyond myself to figure out what’s going on. 


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