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Wednesday, August 13, 2014

I ADORE my Autistic Students.


So if you follow me, you know in know uncertain terms... I LOVE MY JOB. I love my students. I love my coworkers. I love my admin. 

However-- over the course of the past two years I have learned something else about myself. I ADORE autistic students. 

Now to clarify-- the students I work with are in my regular classroom, with 20+ kids and are somewhere between "High Functioning Autism" and "Aspergers". Quite frankly, I'm not even sure that is the proper terminology.   All I know for sure is-- I look forward to having these kids every year. 

My Experience:

My second year teaching I was given a student who I will call "Adam". In our first back to school meeting one of the administrators heard I had Adam in my class and was nervous. Adam struggled with loud noises, disorder, and any kind of "craziness". Now if you look at my blog title (Weird is Cool) you will note that my classroom is not a mundane place to be. My admin told me a little more about Adam and what I could expect from him. I had another teacher tell me to give him rubber bands and paper clips and he'd fiddle with them all class and not be a problem. I'll be honest-- I was nervous about whether I would be the best teacher for him. 

My First Interaction with Adam:

In the early days of class my students were working on their Warm Up and I noticed Adam wasn't working. I considered just letting him "do his thing" but decided against it. He was my student and I needed to treat him like my student. I walked over to his desk and squatted down to his level.

Me: Adam, where's your warm up? 
Adam: Lifts up his warm up, he continues to doodle on his paper
Me: Why aren't you doing your Warm Up?
Adam: Because I didn't know what to do!  (this was said in an exasperated whisper yell)
Me: We are doing numbers seven and eight.
Adam: After rolling his eyes and letting out annoyed sigh he answers the first question. He reads the second question and is annoyed again, "This question doesn't even make sense."
Me: It asks you to write down what each of these dates mean, they are up on the poster on the window.
Adam: Looks over to the window, sees the poster and answers the question. 

A few minutes later the class is going over our warm up. Kids are shouting out answers but I call on Adam. 

Me: Adam can you tell me what the date 1607 is for? 
Adam: Jamestown Colony
Me: Very good, thank you for sharing
Adam: Smiles slightly but then goes back to his doodles. 

For the rest of the year, I worked hard to call on Adam in class. At first I only called on him when I knew he knew the answer, but after a while I got braver (and so did he) :-). During a class debate I made him participate. I asked him questions and he responded strongly. His team was in awe, and glad he was on their side.

Throughout the year I would have MANY conversations like this:

Adam: Why do I have to do this worksheet? Its not even going to help me a little bit!
Me: Doing the worksheet, that I asked you to do, is a sign of respect towards me. So can you do this worksheet for me?
Adam: After a long intake of breath and sigh. "Fiiiiiiiine"

He may not have done the worksheets for himself, but he would do them for me. He liked and respected me as his teacher. 

One of our other favorite conversations:

After he said something offensive about another student

Me: Adam that is not how we speak to students in our classroom. I don't let people speak to you that way so you should not speak to others that way in my classroom.
Adam: Fiiiiiiine. 
Me: I would like you to apologize.
Adam: Nostril Flare
Me: Please?
Adam: Sorry. He said it curtly and with a face ... but it was an apology

This was an important step for my classroom-- I always stuck up for the kids in my class when Adam would insult them. I didn't brush it off just because Adam thought differently. They knew I held him to the same standard of kindness I held the rest of my class. 

Fun Story:

Adam HATED it when kids tapped on the desk and my class had A LOT of tappers. One day at the start of class, I heard a kid tapping and looked for Adam. He wasn't there. The kids told me he had been there earlier he was probably just late. I told them to "HURRY GET ALL YOUR TAPS OUT!" they tapped their pencils like MANIACS for a few seconds before Adam came in. The class stopped immediately when they saw him and I told Adam we were just getting our "taps out". The rest of the class smiled. 

I loved this moment with them. I loved that they stopped tapping because they knew he hated it. I loved that they knew I understood, sometimes it is hard to control yourself. But mostly I loved that they didn't seem annoyed when he came in. He was a part of our class and made us what we were: a classroom of tappers who didn't tap.

An Important Conversation I had with My Class

Half way through the first semester Adam got frustrated because he didn't know what page we were on in our journals.  He yelled and was exasperated. I let him get up to get water. While he was gone I had a talk with my class.

"Guys, when Adam is frustrated-- what do you think you're supposed to do?"

The told me they were supposed to ignore it and pretend it wasn't happening. They really believed that. When I think about it, I guess it makes sense, they didn't want to make him feel embarrassed so they don't say anything. I however wasn't going to have that. 

"Y'all when Adam is frustrated, offer to help. Ask what he is frustrated about. What do you guys notice about how I talk to him?" 

They responded that I was nice and I was patient. 

When I told them they should respond that way as well, they seemed apprehensive, but played along. I told them that Adam thought differently and it was important that we don't ignore him because of that. 

I loved the day I saw a student help Adam out with what page in the book we were on (I made him say thank you :-))

By the end of the year Adam was working in partners and group work. The students would tell me enthusiastically "Adam is really smart! He knew that one when the rest of us didn't!" Adam even participated in "Harry Potter Review Day"!! Though, that day, he did tell the teachers in my hall that, apparently, I had lost my mind (but he said it with a smile).

My Favorite Moment:

I had Car Rider duty on Fridays. I would stand outside and wave people in at the back of the line. Every Friday without fail Adam would get out of his car and no matter where in the car rider he got out he would RUN to give me a hug. Keep in mind this is a kid who would tell people in no uncertain terms that he HATED school. However-- he loved the teachers and the admin. And I tell you this, we loved him too.

Part of the Family:

Second semester he wasn't supposed to be in my class. He was supposed to move to another teacher. When I pointed this out to the counselors and the admin, and they responded "Oh no, he can't get out of your class. Its one of the only classes he likes all day". They switched his schedule around and he stayed. One of my teammates told me in no uncertain terms, "You were the best teacher for him this year, that boy would walk through fire for you". I don't know if that was necessarily true, but I do know I got him to be a part of my classroom family.  

In Closing:

I love my autistic students. I had another glorious student this past year but I'll save that for another blog as this one is already too long. 

If you take anything away from this blog please take this, I know autistic children can be intimidating. What will their moods be like? Is it best just to let them do their thing? What if I upset them? I'll say this-- in my experience, Autistic kids are human and like to be treated as such. Don't treat them like a desk lamp. Try to engage them. Build a relationship-- it will be different but it means so much more when you connect. Let the kid know that you think they are funny and smart and special. Make them a part of your classroom-- don't let them get away with everything. It makes other kids resent them and that isn't good for the class either. Treat them like a kid-- just a kid who thinks differently. 

Happy Teaching!


Saturday, August 9, 2014

Social Studies Warm-Ups for Middle School



So this comes from a request about how I do warm ups in my classroom. Our team does Warm Up packets per grading period. We plan for them for three days a week-- the other days we warm up by reviewing our memory chants/tricks or the students recite their memorization piece for the six weeks.  

Our warm ups generally work in TWO parts:

There is one STAAR Formatted Question and one knowledge based question. 

The STAAR Formatted Question: 
This usually it comes from a Released STAAR Test. Students are required to show strategies on this question. We have a school strategy that we use and we require students demonstrate knowledge on these question beyond circling and underlining. 

Knowledge Based Question: 
The knowledge based question is formatted in multiple ways, lists, visuals, etc.  It is usually something they can easily find in their notes or recall quickly from memory. 

Examples: 
List four things you can remember about the Louisiana Purchase.
What are the five weaknesses of the Articles of Confederation?
Write your document chant. 

I generally do this because it helps build kids confidence at the beginning of class and allows them to practice skills they will need on their tests/quizzes. 

I hope this was helpful! Happy Teaching!

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Welcome Kids to Your Classroom!


I got very excited as I thought about writing this post. When my kids come into my classroom they know the expectation and they also know that I am happy to see them.

Now personally I don't have the sign in my classroom that says "Today became great when you arrived!" (See this post) about why. However, my kids know I love my job, and it is evident when they see me at the beginning of every class. 

The trick? 

MUSIC!!!! 

EVERY DAY in my classroom I play music as the kids walk in. 

I play the same song all day on repeat in the five minutes between classes. I dance to it, sing to it, kids in the hallway will poke their heads in my class to hear what it is I'm jamming to. My first year I just picked whatever song tickled my fancy for that particular day-- I found a repeated the same artist/style of music a lot. 

The past two years I have used theme days to be sure to mix it up for my kids and they actually look forward to it! 


Movie Music Monday 
(Songs from TV or Movie Soundtracks)
Taylor Swift Tuesday 
(Because she's my favorite-- replaced once this year for 
Shirley Temple Tuesday to honor a legend)
One Direction Wednesday/ 
Walt Disney Wednesday 
(I enjoy 1D but I get a little tired of them and my kids are 
happy to change it up and listen to Disney for a day)
Thursday: Throwback Thursday
(A song from "back in the day")
Friday: Free Pick Friday
(This day I don't stick with a theme and play whatever I want)

That sets the initial tone of my classroom-- if my kids walk in and there is no music they will usually tell me that the classroom feels weird. Honestly, I feel weird without the music too-- I love to sing and dance to it as the kids come in because music just makes me happy! 

Here's a picture from my instagram that my students commented on. I even had a boy tell me he missed it!

Note: This is only for welcome music. The rest of the day in class we listen to instrumentals. I will play Baroque Classical if I need them to focus or the Piano Guys if they can be a little bit more conversational.

Pick up Table:
A lot of people say to put it at the front for kids to pick up as soon as they walk in-- I'm not a fan of this. Middle schoolers tend to bottle neck and want to socialize excessively especially as they pause to do something. I prefer my kids being all the way in my classroom. Once you train them, they have it down. 
My pick up table/turn in tray is on the farthest end of my classroom and it is beautiful. 

Walk in Screen:

My walk in screen is VERY informative. I tell the kids the music theme, what they need to turn in, the number of papers they need to pick up, their Warm Up, where we are in their ISN, and when their next Quiz/Test/Major Grade is, as well as what it entails. 

My students have no excuse for not knowing what is going on in my classroom. 
I also have a Weekly Snapshot posted in the back of my classroom.

 This is updated every week. I am very transparent with my students about what is coming so they can better prepare for it. Also, when the parents come on parents' night they can see that my classroom has reminders ALL OVER for their kids. 

You control the environment of your classroom! Make it happy! Make it joyful! Make it a place that YOU want to be every day! 

Happy Teaching!




Saturday, July 5, 2014

End of Year Books



On the second to last day of school this year I decided to read to my students. It was the last day that I saw all of them and I wanted to leave them with some words of wisdom. I decided to read two books to them.

"Oh, the Places You'll Go!" by Dr Seuss 
"The Big Orange Splot" by Daniel Pinkwater



This is just a classic in general-- I paused for the deeper parts of the book and afterwards we talked about High School. I took them through the phases of high school. 

Freshman Year: You will spend with most of your friends from middle school and you will meet new people from the other middle schools at your high school. 
Sophomore Year: This is the year people become more solidified in their activities and driver's license cause them to become more independent as well. This is the year people begin to make decisions about what they will be doing on the weekends. 
Junior Year: This is the year that everyone is really into their sports and become more entrenched in their activities.
Senior Year: The Unity Year. Everyone begins to feel nostalgic and everyone hangs out with everyone again because everyone is ready to get out of high school. 

I tell them that it is important to enjoy the ride because it all goes by too quickly! Get involved! Find your passion! 


This book is my favorite that I read to my students.  

Basically the story goes like this:

Mr. Plumbean gets a big orange splot on the top of his house. He ends up overhauling the house and redecorating it. When the people on his street see it they kind of freak out because they live on a "neat street". They send a neighbor over to talk to Mr. Plumbean and Mr. Plumbean tells the neighbor "My house is me and I am it. My house is where I like to be and it looks like all my dreams". They spend the night talking about their hopes and childhood dreams and the next day the neighbors house looks like a ship because he had always loved to sail.  Pretty soon the entire street ends up changing their homes and they become known for being a "unique" street. 

I tell my students that the point is: uniqueness sends. When you are yourself-- you encourage others to be themselves as well. You should never seek to be a person that others try to impress. You should strive to be a person that makes other people feel like they can be themselves around. 

I then tell them that was something I strive for in my classroom. I explain to them my classroom philosophy. The year comes full circle and they recognize the "method to my madness". I will forever cherish the conversations I had with my students on this last day and I hope they do as well :-)

Happy Teaching!

Monday, June 16, 2014

The Last Days of Middle School...


So every year I have an incredibly hard time saying goodbye to my kiddos. Each year I find myself meeting the end of the school year with a certain amount of nostalgia and sadness. This year is absolutely going to kick me in the emotional rear. I've now known some of my students for three years as they were in my "Mock UN" club my first year teaching (which was also the first year my school opened) and I have looked forward to having them now for three years. 

So last year I sent a personalized email to each class (I have my classes separated by email). I told the parents a little bit about the character of each class and why they were special to me. This year I did that the day before the last day. The students came on the last day and were happily telling me about how their parents told them about our class and how special it was. It went a long way in terms of my students coming to terms with the end of the year


I also made books for the kids to write in which were beautiful and sweet.  Titles "Advice for future 8th Grade Students", "Memories", and "Notes to Ms. Puckett". I had them out the last week of school and students could fill them in at their leisure. 

Sometimes kids have things to say that you never knew. 
This one brought me to tears:
"Hey Puckett! this year I've been through so much more bad than good. I've struggled a lot and I basically felt like I had no one. but you being the best teacher would honestly make me smile everyday. I don't talk much in your class but I still felt like I was a part of something. your high fives every day and your crazy jokes are the best. Thank you for believing in me when no one else did. Thank you for teaching me that being different was perfectly okay. Thank you for everything that you do and keep teaching because students love you! I love you and you really are one of the best teachers ever. I'm gonna miss you a lot. Stay Crazy (:" 

Sometimes we forget the impact we can have. Sometimes we can forget that every child during this time walks a different and unique path that is sometimes paved with internal struggle. I can honestly say I enjoyed teaching this girl greatly, but this note made me realize how much closer attention I need to be paying.

These last days are precious... don't waste them watching movies and taking down your classroom. Enjoy your precious time with them.

I read books to my kids on the last day but that my friends... is another blogpost entirely. 
:-)

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Reaching a New Generation of Learners



One of my biggest pet peeves at meetings is when people begin talking about "this generation of learners" and how "difficult" they are to reach. 

The truth is students are a product of what they have been surrounded with and though, as with any generation, they have their flaws-- it is important to know that your generation had its flaws as well and I'm sure teachers were saying the same thing then. 

Wikipedia defines Generation Y as anyone born from the early-late eighties to the 2000's, which would mean I am currently in the "same generation" as my students. I'd like to briefly address the problems people have with the current generation: laziness, distractors, apathy, self-obsession, entitlement, and so many more. Though I feel like teachers have been saying this... for fifty years. 

So lets look at some good things of this generation:

1) They are willing to try new technology if you introduce it to them. I am a big fan of finding apps my students can use and asking them to download it. I tell my students all the time that as long as you tell someone an app is addictive-- no one will think anything of it (so don't worry about it being nerdy). 


One of my favorites is "Geomaster" we ask that our students learn the location of the states and this app for the iPhone/iPad/iPod is amazing! My students can time how quickly they name the states then post it on a poster in my classroom. My students come in with stories about how their families play on the apps together and race each other. How great is that???

 










2) They have more resources for success at their fingertips than any other generation before. They can have information at their fingertips at a moments notice and if you cater assignments to that and encourage them to seek that out that information they will do amazing things! 


Below is an example of what kids can do with information. Before every exam my eighth graders use some form of this document as a review. They use their current knowledge and the knowledge they can acquire at their fingertips to: list what they know (for the Know section), prove using historical evidence (for the Understand section) and analyze with a four to six sentence paragraph or a diagram of some kind (for the Do section). My students turn in pages of incredibly hard work and they are coming to know and understand information MUCH better.  


3) This is a generation of readers. You still have your token "I hate reading" kids but reading has honestly never been cooler than it is now. The Millenials have been a part of a Young Adult Publishing FRENZY since the release of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone in 1997. I remember watching the Young Adult section at my local Barnes and Noble go from one book shelf, to an entire row, and last I checked the front and back of a row and then some in the Young Readers section. 


This generation has created Fandoms unlike the world has ever seen. From Harry Potter, came Twilight, Percy Jackson, Hunger Games, Divergent and so many more to count. There are online forums of fanfiction with Harry Potter lending 670K stories which is 455K more than the second most stories written for Twilight. Superfandoms like these create passionate students who understand what it means to be a hero and seek adventure. Making references to these fandoms will help your students interact with your content in new and interesting ways.

4) They still respond to high expectations-- WITH PURPOSE. I tell my students that I will do everything I can to help them succeed. I tell them that expect I expect a lot of them because I think they are intelligent. I tell them that if my class was simple, they wouldn't try, and it would be an insult to their intelligence. 

5) They are still kids. They may be different than past generations but they are still just kids. They still desire to be loved. They still desire that you listen and care, they still want you to laugh with them, and they still want to learn from you.

People like to use "Kids Today" as an excuse as to why their students aren't achieving or why kids "can't" learn. Don't be a part of the negativity and the problem, be a part of improving education, be a part of the solution but most importantly:

Don't get caught up in saying "Kids Today" because yesterday someone was saying the same thing about you.


Sunday, November 17, 2013

Making it through the "Holiday Slump"



It's
that time of year again...


The school year tends to ebb and flow. There is the excitement and optimism leading into that first test. The joy or maybe disappointment in the results (you'll do even better next time)! Then the first grading period ends and you begin to see your weaknesses and where your students struggle. The second grading period you have the energy to tackle your classroom-- you are going to do it better. 

However the third six weeks strikes and life gets slightly more exhausting. You hit a slump of sorts. You are exhausted. It seems like nothing you do will get you caught up on the sleep you are missing and the work you have to do. The students are stir crazy and their minds are on the holidays. 

Then you hit the November/December slump. That time when kids are kind of in school but their minds are other places. This is the time when our patience is tried the most and the students need it the most. 

Tips for Making it Through: 

1. Stay away from negativity.
This is the time of year when kids are at their stir craziest/laziest. Complaining about it won't change it. Try to come up with ways to encourage and empower your students! Use this as a challenge! 

2.  Try to encourage kids to get their make up done earlier rather than later. 
A lot of students are gone in the days leading to Christmas Break and Thanksgiving break. Many teachers use this as a point to complain about-- don't, it won't change the situation. Offer opportunities for students to get their work done early and encourage them to be responsible about it. 

3. Create memorable moments for your kids.
As this is the end of their first semester with you there is a chance that you may not have some of them next semester. Use this time with purpose-- on those last days, give them things of VALUE to do. 

4. Don't resign yourself to a Movie day. 
The further into my career I get the less purpose/more frustration I feel with movie days. I could be playing content games with my students or reviewing them and testing them to see what they know and what they don't know. Kids like the stimulation-- especially when everybody else is giving them movie days. 

5. Find AT LEAST one thing to look forward to with every class. 
As the kids get stir crazy they likewise begin to get a little too comfortable in the classroom and thereby pushing/crossing boundaries within the classroom. Take this time to find ways to enjoy/love them.

6. On your break-- TAKE A BREAK.
Thanksgiving break can be overwhelming for people. Family comes in, shopping looms, holiday decorations demand to be put up. We can get busy with it and the week passes by before it seems like we've had any time off at all. Take at least an hour or two out of your day to "decompress". In my mind "decompress" means to sit down with a book and get inside my head for an hour. Be quiet let your brain settle.

7. Enjoy your job.
Take time out of your day to soak in your blessings. The VIPS that bring treats, the co-workers that make an extra effort to give back to the staff, sweet things students say, and the teachers you work with that make your job doable. 

I hope this is helpful! Happy teaching!