Sunday, March 22, 2015

RTI: The Slow Response to Intervention

RTI is supposed to respond with interventions to students who need it regardless of their eligibility for special education services.  But what happens when the response to interventions doesn't happen in a timely manor.  As a kindergarten teacher, like all teachers, the academic ability of my students in my classroom is a broad spectrum.  Some of my students enter kindergarten already reading, some can't recognize their name in print..  Somehow, someway we manage to reach and teach our students. However, there may be that one student that no matter how hard you try, you just can't reach.  At what point do aggressive interventions need to occur?

It becomes clearly apparent after the first few months of school, which students need extra attention to help them learn.  Depending on your schools' process, it could take quite a long time before the RTI model is put into place for your student. 

At my school, we have a meeting with support staff and admin to discuss students who we think are struggling academically.  At our meeting we brainstorm ideas and possible specialized groups they can be placed in- this is the intervention.  But what happens when that extra, triple dipped intervention isn't enough?
RTI, Response to Intervention

Again depending on your school site, the options will vary.  At my site we can bring a student to the SST process to meet with the parents and the team, to find out some family background and just try to get a better handle on the siutaion.   These meetings can be very valuable.  Often the parents share important information that isn't told to us on the registration forms.  Important things like-
My child didn’t speak until the age of 4 or my child was premature or suffered an injury or severe illness prior to school age.

It is from this team meeting that the next steps for action NEED to take place. We NEED to add the cherry to the top of that triple scoop. We NEED to move forward with assessment for special education services.  We NEED to know what is causing this child to not succeed and access learning at the rate of his peers.
But what happens when they don't?  What happens when the results are "We will just monitor”.  We don't want to test a 5 year old and add a label.  What if you as the teacher just know that it is more than the student needing more time; there is more than they just need to acquire English as a second language. 

This is when the teacher becomes frustrated with the system.  This is when teachers are told don't worry; we know they need more, and it will happen, but not now. What am I supposed to do when a child is so far behind that nothing I do in the classroom is accessible to them because they still can't write their name and the rest of my class is reading? 

As a teacher I feel defeated.  I feel as if I have failed my student.  It becomes personal.  I do what I can to assist the student; I offer peer help and one-to-one. But when what we are doing is so far beyond where that student is, then it becomes a question as to what is he/she they getting out of being in my classroom? 

Next, you work hard to find curriculum, activities, apps and such so they can feel like they are a part of the classroom, but they still need guidance and assistance to complete anything you give them.  There comes a point when differentiation isn’t enough either.

What do you do if you feel you aren't being heard and then your colleagues’ state that they too have a student just like your student? So here we are it is almost March and we have several students who still can't write their name, they can't recognize any letters or numbers they are unable to count to ten.  This is when the RTI model fails the student.  

Do I as a teacher keep complaining and begging for more help.  Do I tell the parent privately that they have rights and need to be vocal?  My parents are mostly second language learners and many would never question anything for fear it could draw attention to them and their immigration status. 

I don't have answers, I don't have a crystal ball, but I can see the future and if we are putting these little ones on hold to give them the education they need and deserve, we are doing them a disservice.  It isn't right that a five year old doesn't like school.  They shouldn't be telling their mom they don't want to go to school because it is too hard. 

What Has RTI Done For Me Lately?
I don't want you to think that I'm completely against RTI- I'm not.  I am however against the parts of it that DO NOT work.  So, what has RTI done for me?  It has given support early on to students who probably don't have a learning disability but just needed a boost or a push to catch up academically.  It supports me by letting me have small groups to address the individual needs of my students.  Our specific RTI model and Learning center has allowed us to group our students for reading instruction to serve students at their reading level.  It not only serves the low performing students, but it also offers additional learning for those higher academic students who are frequently left out because they are high or at grade level. 

I think the idea behind RTI is a good one; its intentions were good.  But somewhere along the path the fear of over identifying students for special needs got lost in the shuffle.  Now we aren't identifying students and if and when we do they might have been in our school system for several year, floundering.  I do think there was a time that we may have over identified students, but we also need to look at the students we teach and know that kids are different today.  The statistics of students being on the autism spectrum is alarming.  Students are arriving to our classrooms often with so much baggage at the age of five that it is truly unthinkable that any child could have endured so much in such a short amount of time. But it happens, the stories are real and these kids are sitting in every one of our classrooms.

When we identify students, we also identify their specific needs and how they learn best. With the identification and knowledge of how they learn, we can serve them better as educators and in the process help them to become academically successful.  We can make the student a successful learner and not make the teacher feel like a failure in the process.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Bright Ideas: Absent Student Folders

I always seem to have 1  or 2 students absent each day.  This year my class has been hit hard by the flu.  Managing each absent students homework and classroom work can sometimes be a chore.  When parents would ask for their child's work, I'd find myself running around searching for the extra papers.

Now I have a system that works like a well oiled machine.  I created labels for these folders I had and have them in a location easy for students to access. Now when a student is absent the "While You Were Absent" folder is placed at their table space.  Each time class work is passed out, someone at the table puts the work in the folder for the absent student.  At the end of the day I place the folder in their chair pocket.  When the student returns they know they have a folder with all of their homework and classwork they missed while they were out.
This system works so well.  If kindergartners can manage it so could any other grade level.  Ally ou need are some sturdy folders and a label.  
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Thursday, March 19, 2015

Writing in Kindergarten

I've switched up our writing station this month and have started using pages from my Write Away: Writing Prompts for K and 1st.
kindergarten writing
What I really like about these pages is the word bans=k that is above to help the kids with spelling some of our sight words that would be useful when writing to the specific prompt.  

I have focussed a lot this year on writing with my kids.  I have been teaching them to breathe word not syllables then segment the sounds in each syllable.  After much practice they are getting the hang of it.  Tog begin, we first read all of the words in the word bank.  I have found that my kids can read the words but might not be able to spell them.  Having the word bank on the paper helps them to spell the sight words correctly.  We also use the space men to help with our spacing so our words aren't scrunched together.  

This picture is from another writing day-I forgot to take one today
writing in kindergarten

For this weeks prompt, I asked each student the question;  "What is your favorite toy?" They must answer using a complete sentence. For my ELL I will model a sentence frame- "My favorite toy is a _______.  

writing in kindergarten kindergarten writing
After they write and illustrate, they get to share their work with the class, using the document camera.
I am so proud of the writing this little guy did.  


Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Kindergarten Retention - Making the Right Choice

kindergarten retention
With Common Core coming into the forefront and as the rigor placed on five year olds increases, teachers are questioning the idea of retention for some of their students for a variety of reasons.

This is the time of year when many teachers start looking at the academic progress and the social/emotional growth of their students.  They may come to the conclusion that a specific student may not be ready for first grade.  So what does a teacher do?  As educators, especially if we have been teaching for a few years, we know when a student is ready or not.  We know what will be asked of them in the coming school year and we may question if what is in their futre after summer vacation is something that might not be right.

Now is the time when this conversation with the parents needs to occur.  Parents need time to think about it.  Retaining a child does not come lightly to any teacher.  It isn't the magic cure for all students  and for some it could prove to be more detrimental then promoting them on to the next grade level. From the parents perspective, no parent ever wants to admit that their child is struggling.  

Children who are socially or emotionally young may express their frustration through a variety of behaviors.  Many of these behaviors are undesirable and can cause the child to stand out from his or her peers.  You may notice one or more of the following behaviors.
  • Shows signs of not wanting to attend school
  • Does not focus or pay attention
  • Scribbles on classwork
  • Cries repeatedly or has tantrums
  • Continuously interrupts
  • Exhibits aggressive behavior towards other students
  • Wets their pants

Teachers need to present both sides to the parents.  Show them the growth their child has made.  Show them where their child should be and then show them what first grade expectations will be like.  If it is just academics that a student is lacking, retention might not be the answer, especially if a student is an older 5 year old. If they have already turned six, retention would make them be turning 7 years old in kindergarten.  This would surely not  be appropriate. Are they just young and imature but have the academics?  That too is a question that needs to be looked at.    

I actually held a retention conference last week.  The mom volunteers weekly in my classroom.  She is aware that her child is far behind his peers.  She finds it difficult to get him to do homework or sit and listen to stories or practice letters and numbers.  When I asked her how she would feel about having him repeat kindergarten her first words were "I would feel sad, but happy that he will get another chance to be successful" As his teacher I will continue to push him to succeed and to learn, but I can take some of the pressure off of myself knowing that we have another year to fit it all in.   As for his mom, she too will continue to support him at home, but doesn't need to fight him over practicing letters and numbers.  She can let him learn on his own to enjoy learning.  He has been given "The Gift of Time". 

As teachers, we always want to do what is best for the child.  We don't make the decision to retain a child hastily.  We ponder it, we think about it weighing the pros and cons, we discuss it with our grade level colleagues and our intervention specialists. Ultimately in the end the decision must be made by the parents.  It is our job as educators to give the parents all of the information regarding their child that they need so they can make an informed decision.  Once we present the information, we must continue to be there to support and guide them through this difficult decision.

Does your school offer support and guidance to help parents make this difficult decision?  How do you go about making this recomendation?

Monday, March 16, 2015

What's New at

Happy Monday!  Some of you are on Spring break, others are like me- counting down the days.  I have two more weeks to go.  I finished up my CVC Word Fluency Homework packet and have bundle all 5 of my Fluency Homework packs.
What else is new- I have installed an email subscriber list.  It is in the top right corner.  Subscribe to my newsletters to receive tips and ideas for the classroom and FREEBIES exclusively for my email subscribers.

I finished report cards FINALLY.  I am so pleased with the progress my kids have made.  Just look at this writing.  Nether one of these kids could write their name at the beginning of the year.  

Last week we also made these cute Leprechaun directed drawings.  Aren't they ADORABLE?
This is from my friend Jennifer over at First Grade Blue Skies.
You can get her directions for free. Just click the photo.

Happy monday!!!!

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Creating and Maintaing a Positive School Culture

I've been thinking a lot lately about school culture and what does it really mean.  When I think about the school I teach in, I feel positive about where I work and know that although there is always room for improvement.   I'm not ready to jump ship anytime soon.  I truly couldn't imagine teaching anywhere else.

What is the culture at your school?  When new families enter your campus what does it look like and feel like to them?  If you were new to the neighborhood, would you want to send your child to your school?.  When you look around the campus and see teachers interacting with students, what does it look like?

I teach at a K-2 school.  It wasn't always K-2, in fact we have been K-6, K-5, K-3 and now K-2.  I wasn't an advocate for the drastic change, but now I am loving it.  Being a K-2 campus gives us a little more freedom to have some really fun school wide events.  I'm all about having fun in the classroom and making it expand across the grades.  I really like it when we can get our families involved too.  This year we have had 5 school-wide events so far.

  • Halloween Parade
  • Polar Express Day
  • Holiday Sing-a-long
  • 100th Day of School
  • Literacy Week

I'm hoping we will be able to plan at least one or two more before the end of the year.

When families enter our campus, I want them to see that we are more than just an institution for learning; I want them to see that we are a family.

However, creating this school atmosphere takes team-work.  Without the support of staff and parents these events would not be possible.  This time of year is especially hard.  We're in the middle of the year, fully engaged in assessments and report cards and sometimes counting down the days until Spring break.

So, how do you get everyone to have buy-in?  It takes a village to raise a child buy it takes a team to build that village.  As a staff, we have monthly luncheon pot-lucks. We have also been known to meet up after-school from time-to-time at a local watering hole.  This year we showed off our school spirit at the district bowling tournament in tutus.
positive school culture
We joined forces for Halloween to be Super Teachers
positive school culture
 We also showed off some support for our SF Giants during sports theme day.
positive school culture
I think these staff binding times are rally important.  Work might not always feel like work if you are having fun with friends.  I truly enjoy hanging out with my co-workers we have a lot of fun when we are together.  I think the comradery shows through to the parents.  If parents see that we are in it for the kids and are enjoying our jobs then they can feel comfortable about sending their kids to school.  If families see that we as teachers like to come together and support our students, then they just might feel comfortable joining in on the fun and help us to help their child,  

I'm always looking for new ideas to bring our staff and students together.  I'd really like to hear about some of the things you do at your school site to create and maintain a positive school culture.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

The Ron Clark Academy Experience

If you ever have the opportunity to visit the Ron Clark Academy, RUN don't walk.  Don't pass up the opportunity for an incredible experience. 
Ron Clark, Ron Clark Academy
Our day of amazing fun began the minute we entered the building.  We were greeted with loud music and kids clapping, dancing and singing.  The students surrounded us, shaking our hands as they introduced themselves to us.  The asked us questions and engaged us in conversation. 
Ron Clark, Ron Clark Academy
Ron Clark, Ron Clark Academy
Once all of the visiting educators were inside the building, Ron and his co -ounder Kim Bearden welcomed us and gave us the itinerary for the day. 

My first stop was Ron's  5th grade math class.  Music was playing, kids were singing while dancing on chairs and table tops.  (GASP) kids standing on chairs- it looked like a ton of fun!   As the music volume lowered the kids returned to their seats and the learning began.  There was a constant exchange of ideas and questions.  Kids were popping up out their chairs as they stated their ideas clearly, loudly and making eye contact with those around them.  
Ron Clark, Ron Clark Academy
There was no raising of hands, but a clear understanding by all students of what the process for speaking and participating was.  At different times, a drum would thump, a chant or dance would break out and then back to teaching, talking and learning.  The students shared their ideas, defened their rational and respectfully explained to each other where they went wrong in solving their equation.  After only a few minutes of observation it was clear that the kids had all been taught how to engage and interact with each other.  At one point Mr. Clark had a student come up to the class to teach while Mr. Clark observed and graded the student on his teaching performace.  He was expected to face the students, feet forward even while writing on the touch board.  He was expected to look at the students, making eye contact, just as Mr. Clark did.  Together the students worked to solve the math question. 

Next we went to watch Ms. Barnes'  students practice their production of Twelve Angry Men.    The students performed while we watched to give some feedback in the end. Just by observing you could tell that Ms. Barnes had an awesome rep ore with her students.  

Dr.  Jones Math class was another amazing class to watch students work together in pairs to solve math equations.  The Promithean tables they used were amazing.  The table allowed them to draw out their work and thoughts in different colors, erase quickly and try again.  The students were solving for the area of a polygon.  I was impressed with how quick their minds worked, talking out loud each step. 

We stopped by Hope King's classroom.  Her room was amazing.  She of course was phenomenal!!!  Check out this Alice in Wonderland room.  Who wouldn't want to be a student here.
Ron Clark, Ron Clark Academy
Ron Clark, Ron Clark Academy
Then we were back with Mr. Clark, walking and talking throughout the school as he explained a little more about the history, its philosophy and how they have come to have so many wonderful educational tools.  Basically almost everything in that school was donated by companies. It was clear that Mr. Clark doesn't take "no" for an answer.
Ron Clark, Ron Clark Academy
The school was built by the community. Through perseverance Ron and Kim convinced community members to support its students and after theree long years the school opened to serve students in Atlanta and give them the most amazing education possible. 

Lunch was a whole different experience.  We ate lunch with the students, giving us the opportunity to ask them questions about their experiences at the academy .  They were  eager to answer our questions. Then they turned the conversation around asking us questions about what we teach and where, and  asking us about why we wanted to come to their school.  These students may only be in fifth through eight grade, but they can hold a conversation better than many adults.

After lunch we had some time to explore the school and snap a few photos before our last teacher engagement which was in Kim Bearden's room.  Kim is such a fun and inspirational person and her classroom reflects her personality.  Listening to her story and hearing her passion made me a bit teary eyed. 

Kim Bearden, Ron Clark Academy
Of course we had to do a group selfie with Ron.  He's really good at taking selfies.
Ron Clark, Ron Clark Academy
Slide Certified.  When it was time for us to be slide certified, I was super excited to have a chance to slide down the enormous twisty two story slide.  When it became my turn, the two students working the slide yelled "HEAD FIRST"   So head first it was.   Ir was was such a blast that I had to do it 3 more times.

Ron Clark, Ron Clark Academy, slide certified
Ron Clark, Ron Clark Academy, slide certified
When I returned to my classroom, I was still on the RCA cloud.  I reread his Essential 55 rules and picked a few to start with.  Teaching kindergarten I know that implementing all 55 would be such a huge undertaking, but I can begin with just a few.  So I started with two: 

Rule 2

Make eye contact. When someone is speaking, keep your eyes on him or her at all times. If someone makes a comment, turn and face that person.

Rule 14

“Answer all questions with a complete sentence.

Rule 14 is something we are always working on.  The majority of my students are ELL.
They need to know how to say a complete 
sentence, so why not start in kindergarten.

So if you ever find yourself in Atlanta- make sure you make the extra effort to spend a day at RCA.  It is worth every penny.


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