Instagram Challenge

As, I was reviewing my goals. I was getting lazy with my Instagram feed. I needed a change. I needed a challenge to help me.

So for January, I am upping the ante. I am taking actual photographs each day of the month. (I know, it's a crazy plan.)

I have come up with my own January Photo of the Day Challenge. Some are a theme for the day others are more specific, so get creative and think outside the box--just like I push my students too.

I hope you play along! I'll share my pictures on my Instagram feed at @toadallyexceptional

Tag me at @toadallyexceptional and use the hashtag #toadallyjanuary so we can show you some Insta-LOVE all challenge long! 

INVITE YOUR FRIENDS!! Tag your friends and feel free to repost this graphic! The more the merrier!

Until Next Time,

November Show & Tell

Today, I'll linking up with Stephanie from "Forever in 5th Grade" for her monthly Show and Tell about what's been happening in my room. It only seems like yesterday I was welcoming students back from Summer Break and now I"m thinking about January. AHHHH!!!

A big thing I have been working on this year is getting students to get and receive authentic feedback.  Launch comes from John Spencer and AJ Julian. I went to Summer PD and learned about Launch and liked the idea but really wondered how I would make it work in a 30-minute IEP based session. At the same time of this presentation by AJ, my district rolled out a Design Thinking Cohort. Here's the thing--this idea was a direction I was hearing I needed to move my instruction to score really well on my evaluations because of the student voice, choice, and feedback. Even as a special education teacher these three ideas are the cornerstone of my evaluation.

One thing I found was Design Sprints. Here they only have 30/45 minutes to build 2 prototypes and give each other feedback.  I make sure to have time to do a group debrief but we don't do the whole cycle. I would love to have more time to do the whole cycle but to really hit student voice, choice and feedback--not sure I really need to carve time to do the whole cycle with my students.

Design Sprints also break up the day to day work they do as well. The pumpkins were done a couple of days before Halloween Parties. They loved the change of pace.

The other place I build in student voice and choice is in their daily work. My 3rd graders are working paperless while they read a short chapter book. This is their targeted guided reading time. All their assignments and work is turned in using Seesaw. I create the reading response directions using different apps, so they can move to something other than Chatterpix or Explain Everything to complete their assessments.

They are getting more used to giving themselves feedback in this system and have begun to get it to others. The work they turn goes in the hallway and is shared to an authentic audience. This has changed the quality of work they produce and they know t make several tries (aka prototypes) to get it just how they want it. I have chunked it out by chapter and given deadlines for when things need to be turned in so they aren't just spinning and have to get things done.

The big thing: The assignments target the chapters they have read but all the questions are based on Bloom's. Mind you they hate this but they rise to the challenge and figure out the answer and how they want to turn in the assignment. I do delete work that is not of high quality. (This is a very long and second conversation. But this solves my students who want to rush through everything.)

Here I have let go of everything. I conference with them just about daily--somethings it just a "Hey, tell me what your working on" or "Can I help with anything." I am a guide or somedays strickly an observer as they get the work done. (This is a huge step into--well I have no clue as I've never done anything like this. The big key to keep on going is 1--they are so happy to come to group each day. It's not a drag which in 3rd grade is can be a big thing for them. 2--the monthly grade level progress monitoring scores are raising. And 3--their chapter fluency reads and comprehension products student turn in scream growth. Mind you not all on my caseload an in this place. So we will see when their winter benchmark scores look like. I'm not stressed if they don't finish the book they are reading. I would to change it up and let them have more choice in what they are reading come January.)

The biggest voice, choice, and feedback task we did was before Thanksgiving Break and had a bonus of authentic feedback as well. This was a STEM activity creating a method to transport a turkey without harming it. So what that it was my father but the kids LOVED it! Having someone who worked in engineering and not be me was the coolest thing ever. They want him to come back. We're talking about something for January. Something STEM and something engineering related.

Here again, we only had 45 minutes to do the activity. Students created 2 prototypes and got authentic feedback from someone who worked in the field was the best.

With each of these, I was able to target student voice, choice, and feedback in a short amount of time. It looks very different with the other students I work with but my 3rd graders asked for their IEP time to be something different and the asked for something outside the box. I'm not sure if I will get to do a whole LAUNCH cycle with them but to create something where they know their voice is heard, they are challenged to think outside of the box too, and get and give feedback is a back deal to a group of 3rd graders who thought none of this was possible.

I don't know what is around the next corner of them this year but they have the skills to ask the questions and work through the challenges.

Until Next Time,

Inspiration Needed to Innovate??

One of the podcasts I listen to regular is John Spencer from The Creative Classroom. His podcast from last month "We need to Trust Teachers to Innovate" had me thinking about other ways to bring in Design Thinking.

As with previous years, I only see students for 30 to 40 minutes. This means I don't have time to do a full Launch sequence with students. (John Spencer co-created "Launch" with AJ Juliani) We tend to do Design Sprints hitting pieces of the process (check out my Instagram for more). This last one creating a Jack O'Lantern. This lesson was more about feedback and using that feedback to create multiple prototypes before the final version was due.

Getting back to John Spencer's podcast, it got me thinking about how I could innovate reading fluency. It got me thinking about how I could take our choice board and think outside the box like many of my 3rd graders were wanting me to do. As I was thinking about this idea could it really live within my fluency group?

The thing a really like about John is that he is a teacher. He understands everything that goes on within our walls but is ideas push traditional thinking. My takeaway--Innovation of the little things, give voice & choice and take learning outside of the box and off road! My Fluency Choice boards give students a chance to be author, filmmakers, artists, and engineers I'm giving them voice & choice in how they want to build their reading fluency.

Its a blind leap based half in data and half in something needs to change with what they are doing to improve their reading fluency. I'm also stepping into the unknown as I experiment with this idea.

This image John helps me visualize and rationalize my idea in the hopes that I'm not in the weeds. "But here’s the thing: innovation requires you to step into the unknown. If we focus all of our attention on best practices and codify these ideas into tightly packaged curriculum, we will inevitably fail to experiment."

So, I ditched what most would consider a fabulous Tier 3 Reading Fluency technology based Reading Fluency trial based on the fact the data didn't support going and asking for the money to buy the licenses to continue using the program. Talk about being stuck between the data and the need to change my intervention--I went with innovation.

The Choice Board I created uses technology because it will force my students to think outside the box and will make them become artists and filmmakers. And I don't have a problem with this as it fits my students' strengths while they work on their weaknesses. (A bonus in my book!!)

Most of these apps they have used to support reading comprehension, others are new but with a tweak all with tackle fluency. All I added was a dice. Students will roll the dice at least twice over the 30 minutes I have them. All their work will be turned in to Seesaw each day.

One thing John points out is "Have your students publish their work to a real audience. For all the fear surrounding social media, we make a mistake when we say, “avoid this” without saying, “try out this.” Too often, the goal is to avoid a digital footprint at all cost rather than finding ways to create a positive digital footprint."

I have been toying with the idea of having them podcast--going back to Launch. I'm wanting them to see the purpose so they need to launch it to an audience other than me and mom. But I'm not sure.

As I move to paperless with groups, I'm finding ways to bring a touch of innovation to each group. It's the baby steps and knowing its ok to fail. My students and I embrace our mistakes. We use them an evidence that we are learning and work to learn from them. We are all learning to grow from feedback--just like they did with the Jack o'Lanterns.

In both cases, I wanted and found real audiences for my students. This needs to happen for reading fluency. I just have to keep looking. What can you give students voice & choice with to help you innovate in your classroom? Try something... and play!!

Until Next Time,

Why First Sound Fluency Matters? {Freebie}

Letter-sound correspondences involve knowledge of the sounds represented by the letters of the alphabet the letters used to represent the sounds.Why is knowledge of letter-sound correspondences important? DIBELS has changed LSF to First Sound Fluency--(which is better.)
Knowledge of letter-sound correspondences is essential in reading and writing
In order to read a word:
  • the learner must recognize the letters in the word and associate each letter with its sound
  • In order to write or type a word
  • the learner must break the word into its component sounds and know the letters that represent these sounds.
Knowledge of letter-sound correspondences and phonological awareness skills are the basic building blocks of literacy learning. These skills are strong predictors of how well students learn to read.



What sequence should be used to teach letter-sound correspondence?
Letter-sound correspondences should be taught one at a time.  As soon as the learner acquires one letter-sound correspondence, introduce a new one. I suggest teaching the letters and sounds in this sequence: a, m, t, p, o, n, c, d, u, s, g, h, i, f, b, l, e, r, w, k, x, v, y, z, j, q.

This sequence was designed to help learners start reading as soon as possible. Letters that occur frequently in simple words (e.g., a, m, t) are taught first. Letters that look similar and have similar sounds (b and d) are separated in the instructional sequence to avoid confusion. Short vowels are taught before long vowels. I teach upper case then lowercase. However, when I'm assessing the student they get both all the letters. (think DIBELS or AimsWeb Fluency probes.)

An example Instruction: For RTI and if I'm working 1 on 1 with a student. (I have had given this to para's or parents to do as well.)

Sample goal for instruction in letter-sound correspondences:
The learner will listen to a target sound presented orally identify the letter that represents the sound select the appropriate letter from a group of letter cards, an alphabet board, or a keyboard with at least 80% accuracy.

Instructional Task:
Here is an example of instruction to teach letter-sound correspondences. The instructor introduces the new letter and its sound shows a card with the letter m and says the sound “mmmm.” After practice with this letter sounds, then I review with the student.

The instructor says a letter sound.
The learner listens to the sound, looks at each of the letters provided as response options, selects the correct letter, from a group of letter cards, from an alphabet board, or from a keyboard.

Instructional Procedure:
The instructor teaches letter-sound correspondences using these procedures:
The instructor demonstrates the letter-sound correspondence for the learner.

Guided practice:
The instructor provides scaffolding support or prompting to help the learner match the letter and sound correctly.
The instructor gradually fades this support as the learner develops competence.

Independent practice:
The learner listens to the target sound and selects the letter independently. The instructor monitors the learner’s responses and provides appropriate feedback.

The Alphabetic Principle Plan of Instruction:
Teach letter-sound relationships explicitly and in isolation. Provide opportunities for children to practice letter-sound relationships in daily lessons. Provide practice opportunities that include new sound-letter relationships, as well as cumulatively reviewing previously taught relationships.

Give students opportunities early and often to apply their expanding knowledge of sound-letter relationships to the reading of phonetically spelled words that are familiar in meaning.

Amanda from Mrs. Richardson's Class has created a 20 minute Guided Reading Plan which I use with my Pre-A's and A's. The big piece is these guys are in books which is huge for them and makes their day.



Rate and Sequence of Instruction
No set rule governs how fast or how slow to introduce letter-sound relationships. One obvious and important factor to consider in determining the rate of introduction is the performance of the group of students with whom the instruction is to be used. 

I tell the teachers I work with, think MASTERY. Start with the ones the student knows and then add no more than 5. Master and then add the next ones that make sense. Use your Probe data to drive your plan. 

It is also a good idea to begin instruction in sound-letter relationships by choosing consonants such as f, m, n, r, and s, whose sounds can be pronounced in isolation with the least distortion. Stop sounds at the beginning or middle of words are harder for children to blend than are continuous sounds.

Instruction should also separate the introduction of sounds for letters that are auditorily confusing, such as /b/ and /v/ or /i/ and /e/, or visually confusing, such as b and d or p and g.

Many teachers use a combination of instructional methods rather than just one. Research suggests that explicit, teacher-directed instruction is more effective in teaching the alphabetic principle than is less-explicit and less-direct instruction.


This year I'm working towards being paperless. Why?? I' traveling to other rooms to provide services. As it is I'm a bag lady on the best of days but as a Special Education teacher you have to be ready for just about anything when it comes to planning inclass support. My way around this--technology. Not for everything but since I use Seesaw for communication and goal tracking; let's find other things to do with it.  For this First Sound Fluency activity, you will need Seesaw and have your class setup.  I tend to give students a page at a time to ensure it is correct. It can also be used as an assessment or as a center.

Until Next Time,

Six Syllable Types

For years, my school district has pushed back on qualifying students with learning disabilities with reading fluency only. The stance has always been--there is always a reason for being disfluent. Go back and look for the reason.  Well, time and time again--they have been right. The larger reason--the true root cause of the student's learning need!

For me, it always boils done to students needing phonics instruction. It might be the basics: sounds and letters or a Tier 2 intervention then the student is off to the races. However, most of the time it's an advanced phonics need. The student needs to work on vowel teams or open syllables.

When in doubt, look at the words the missed on a running record or oral reading fluency. The photo is the word level analysis of a student's oral reading fluency progress monitoring over 3 weeks. I can now the information to drive my instruction and see (if anything) needs to be changed. In this case, no but I do need to double check the scope & sequence of the phonics program she is in to ensure the advanced phonics she needs does indeed get taught in a timely fashion.

For many who teach reading the mere idea of advanced phonics or what do you mean there are 6 syllable types--its greek. FYI: when looking for a phonics program or intervention look for one with a scope & sequence that covers all 6 syllable types.

Students benefit from learning the concept of syllables, such as hearing them in words, understanding the syllable-spelling connection, and knowing that every syllable has a vowel. There are six common types of syllables found in English orthography. Direct instruction how these syllable patterns work in reading and spelling can be a powerful skill building activity for students, especially those who struggle to read, write, and spell.Knowing these help them learn to read and spell. Oh, and read fluently.

I teach the six syllable types starting with my 1st graders. For example, why are certain vowels used, when should you double consonants, and how does one know the correct way to pronounce sounds in words? Reading and spelling no longer feel so random and mysterious once children learn how words work. (My school's spelling program works students through the types--CRS.)

Breaking words down into syllables simplifies reading and spelling, especially for more fluent readers and spellers. Think about how you spell long, unknown words. You probably break the word down into manageable chunks as you spell it. Systematically teaching students how to hear syllables, then teaching the six syllable types, helps students read and spell challenging, multisyllabic words they previously would have misread or skipped.

The six syllable types are:

Closed Syllables
Vowels in closed syllables are usually short. These are typically the first words taught and learned, so this is a good place to start syllable type instruction. Closed syllables have a short vowel, followed by at least one consonant: much, vet, shell, insect, publish, sunset

Open Syllables
Open syllables end in a vowel that is usually long. Some examples of open syllables are: shy, go, me, silo, zero. Words can have more than one type of syllable, such as these words with both an open and closed syllable: rerun or robot.

Vowel-consonant-silent e Syllables
Vowels in these syllables are long and the final e is silent. Some examples are: lime, those, snake. Examples of words with an open and vowel-consonant-silent e syllable are: define, migrate, and beside.

Vowel Pair Syllables
Also known as Vowel Teams, these vowel sounds are spelled with digraphs such as: plain, coat, cowboy.

R-Controlled Syllables
These syllables have a vowel followed by an r. The r affects the sound the vowel makes, and both sounds are heard within the same syllable. Examples with or, ir, er, ar, ur are: star, bird, her, turtle.

Consonant-le Syllables
These syllables are also known as final stable syllables. Students will usually discover that when they see a consonant followed by le at the end of a word, the three letters form a syllable. Some examples are: bubble, maple, kettle, and fiddle.



Though I stick to phonics programs to teach syllable types you can do this in guided reading as you see students needing the support.

Until Next Time,

What is Academic Rigor?

The term “academic rigor” has been making its way back through my building, but many teachers are not familiar with the concept or how to support rigor within their classroom. Understanding rigor is essential for understanding how to approach and measure the learning of students. It questions the standards and makes me think about what I really want students to know. (think 40 years from now)

“Rigor,” in the academic sense, is referring to that fine line between challenging and frustrating a student. It means that students are challenged to think, perform, and grow to a level that they were not at previously. It means that students must work, like an athlete at a team practice, to build their skills, understanding, and thinking power so that they can achieve at higher and higher levels. It means that the standards of the course are calibrated so that students are compelled to grow, but are not frustrated and overwhelmed in the process.

Academic rigor is commonly thought of in three different phases of the educational process. The first is setting the standard for students; the second is equipping students through instructional and supportive methods; the third is student demonstration of achievement.

Setting the Standard

We all know that there is a certain standard of excellence that we implicitly expect of our students. My students know that those expectations involve everything they do for me from writing assignments, pictures drawn, or speaking and listening to peers.

Sometimes these standards are made clear to students with examples, rubrics, directions, and instruction. Sometimes these standards are less defined. What is essential for establishing the appropriate degree of rigor in my classroom is making sure that you overtly demonstrate to students what the expected outcome is.

Not only is maintaining a high standard essential for student success, but excellent teachers must also make sure that they are supporting each and every student to move progressively toward the desired level of achievement. I make sure whatever content or skill is I'm are covering, I have the needed materials and instructional patterns.

  • Lessons are systematically scaffolded from one to the next.
  • Materials are consistently organized to clearly provide instructions and demonstration of task
  • Intervention tasks or instructions are regularly utilized to ensure no students are left behind.
  • I'm available for helping students individually at other points throughout the day.
  • Parents are communicated with regularly regarding the academic goals of the course.
  • Learning tools are color-coded, graphically organized, reinforced, and interactive.
  • Content is made relevant and relatable to student background information and interest.
  • Validation of Achievement

It’s not enough for teachers simply to “teach” and expect students then to “learn.” The final step for assessment of academic rigor within the classroom is to provide students with various opportunities to demonstrate their degree of achievement in relation to the given standard.

  • A balance of formative and summative assessments intermittently provided.
  • Student demonstration measured using a rubric or other standard-based assessment tool.
  • Students allowed the opportunity to conference and revise work.
  • Homework and class activities thought of as “practice.”
  • Students work independently or collaboratively on a given project.
  • Students connect material to real-life examples and situations.
  • Students provide a written or spoken summative report.
  • Students metacognitively apply a variety of content learned.
  • Student performance compared to previous student attempts.
  • Students provide high-level answers to high-level questions.
  • Students do not give up or feel overwhelmed when faced with challenges.
  • Students reflect on their learning progress and efforts.

So what are your standards in your classroom? How are those communicated, supported, and demonstrated throughout the year? Take time to consider how “rigorous” the academic requirements are for your classroom, and shape the environment to consistently demand of students higher and higher levels of academic progress!

Anticipate Difficulty

  • Traditional remediation for struggling students imposes interventions after students have failed. It's more productive, however, if teachers anticipate areas of difficulty before students approach new material. Part of that anticipation includes the teacher considering the classroom population by knowing which students have identified learning disabilities, which have limited English proficiency, or how students have previously performed in class. Teachers should also be aware of which concepts and ideas have been difficult for classes in the past, where student misperceptions or confusions have been particularly strong.

Use Graphic Organizers

  • Struggling students often need help organizing information in a coherent fashion to show how different parts relate to the whole and other kinds of relationships and connections. Graphic organizers can help, provided that teachers don't use them like worksheets. I demonstrate using them and make my student create their own. I only provide copies if I have a student that for whatever reason just can't--this is VERY rare. The point of the graphic organizer is to show kids how the facts are connected so they can organize them in their heads. Organizing information into a mental model or framework is the first stage of rigorous learning, and if you don't get that part right, it's harder to go farther in rigor. Ultimately, the goal is to get kids spontaneously creating their own graphic organizers—not on paper, but in their heads.
  • A graphic organizer used in advance of a lesson gives students a heads up about key vocabulary, concepts, and skills, that they will encounter in a unit, showing the relationships of the upcoming information but also clarifying expectations of student learning. At the same time, such organizational tools can help teachers clarify in their own mind what kind of work they'll need to do to activate student's prior knowledge in a given area and fill gaps for some students, to better level the playing field as a new unit is undertaken.

Look for Clues
  • During a lesson, teachers are constantly collecting information about students' learning through observations and other formative assessments, assignments, quizzes, tests, class participation, and behavioral cues. The feedback you collect all along from students gives you a lot of information about where kids are and where they're struggling but a lot of teachers make the mistake of seeing every struggling student as needing intervention without making the distinction between a productive struggle and destructive struggle.

If you are looking for more on Rigor or Supporting Struggling Students--check out Robyn Jackson. I love her insights and always find something new when I reread them. (Her website has great planning freebies.) My district is very big into 21st-century skills and knowledge with the 4cs--I found returning to her books the push I needed to rethink my reading instruction in a group wishing to "think outside--the box." (more on them later)

Until next time,

Why Progress Monitoring Students?

Raise your hand if you have gone back to school. I started back on the 1st. The beginning of the school year is ALWAYS crazy. Right!! #YesIknow #CRAZY

This year with my new team members and general education teachers, I have to remind them to progress monitor identified students, students in RTI, oh well I really mean more or less your whole class.

What are those reasons for progress monitoring? We have some right?

  1. Best practice
  2. Monitor progress to grade level benchmarks
  3. Adequate progress
  4. Know if intervention worked

Progress monitoring has always been a best practice in teaching and learning. However, in an era of accountability ongoing, consistent progress monitoring is an essential component to determine the effectiveness of instruction and student learning. It is critical that we have routines for monitoring students’ growth and achievement that will support appropriate instruction. How do we know whether or not our instruction and our interventions are supporting student growth and learning? Progress monitoring helps us answer this question.

Another consideration is the frequency with which to monitor student progress. I want to give the student enough time to master the strategy, which means I don’t want the monitoring intervals to be too close together. At the same time, if the strategy is not working I want to discontinue it as soon as possible and replace it with methods that do work. This means I don’t want the monitoring intervals to be too far apart.

Without effective progress monitoring, I cannot determine whether or not our methods are working. Therefore, it is essential to think about how I monitor my students’ progress, how often I monitor, and how I use the findings to plan instruction so students learn and master the appropriate skills and strategies aka adequate progress.

Let's remember that progress monitoring is best implemented in a very realistic and sensible manner that can be sustained by the teacher. Using completed homework, class tests, learning/work station products, student share out time, oral presentations, conferences, and portfolios, to name a few, will provide you with the pulse of your students. And only you, as the classroom teacher, the professional, can determine which data and routines best serve you and your students for teaching and learning.

Until next Time,

How I Create my Student's Data Binders

I'm not sure how much colored page I go through but all I do KNOW is that when it comes to students taking owner ship of their data and it NOT being part of my mess--is a HUGE deal.

This is the third year, I have created data binders for my students and created a current assessment binder for myself.

Why you might ask--did would I go through all that drama to create data binders in color. Well because I wanted NEEDED to tame the mess of student data which had over run my desk.

Let me take you back to the beginning of my teaching career. I kept ALL my IEP data in one huge binder on my desk. The problem--it was a pain to locate a specific student's data or to take to a meeting.

Fast forward a couple of years, I began to keep student's progress monitoring data in group binders. I kept data, lesson plans, and IEPs here. I could find a student's data but it was a pain to lug to any meeting.

A fellow Special Education teacher suggested using file folders as she did the same. Well, let me tell you-my student's data was easy to find and take to meetings BUT it OVER TOOK my desk. I couldn't do anything on my desk without having to move 300 things. (HUGE PAIN)

Then I crossed paths with someone who used individual binders for everything related to the student's IEP. She kept the current IEP, notes from meets with the classroom teacher and conversations with the student's parents.

This is where my data binders started. Over the next couple of years, it went from black & white to color. (This was a hint from my ESL teacher.)  But before I went with color paper, I had to get my students to do their own data collection, reflection, and have a voice in their IEPs. Way easier than said.

I started with reading fluency with graphing with just coloring to the correct number. Then came reflection and voice. I slowly added to what students did based on their IEP goals. One at a time. Last year, I added the colors. The colors were chosen as they matched the dividers and the order I wanted to put things in.

The bonus that comes using the data collection to beat SLO (Student Learning Objectives) (these are huge deal in Colorado)

I LOVE these graphs--there is enough space to create trend lines and a line for grade level benchmark. (Which in my district is how we look at adequate progress.)

 All these lines lend themselves beautifully to student conferences. Goal setting is KEY to not only giving students voice and choice but it is also how you MOVE students and help them to take ownership of their learning.

Everyone starts the year off with the assessment graphs they need (sometimes I put the teacher assessment in there as well) but as the year progresses each student's binder really become theirs.

Student Voice & Choice (Personalized learning) becomes more prominent. Students decide on what IEP goals they wish to focus on as well as set a SMART goal for that goal. This plus the progress monitoring makes the portfolio to share at their IEP meetings. The information in their binders inform present levels of performance and next steps. While providing my students with a critical life skill.

My Teacher Data Binder holds all the assessments I need to progress monitor IEP goals and extra graphs. Gone are the days my IEP assessments are in 3 different places and they are nowhere to be seen. All in one place and ready for me. I love I can grab and go. I don't have to bring a student back to my office to progress monitor.

I love that my student data is all in one place and I can manage it with a 5 minute conversation with the student about what they are working on. Teachers appreciate that I can bring a student binder to a meeting to talk about the whole child. This makes RTI and classroom intervention planning a breeze.

Click here check out my Student & Teacher Data Binder: Progress Monitoring Made Simple & Easy

Until Next Time,

Thank you for your interest-this offer has expired. 
You can find my Student & Teacher Data Binder HERE.

How to Tame your IEP Data Mess!

If you walked into my office and looked at my desk you would fall over. My desk by day 5 of the school year--OMG! I know I'm not alone. With all the paperwork, files, reports, and student data well--it's a wonder that any of us are organized. #amIright?

After 14 years of trying everything from one binder for all my students, (mind you that 1 large binder with 40 students) to buckets to file folders. Nothing worked to keep each students data, work, progress monitoring, teacher conference notes. So last summer, I decided to try student data binders and make my students responsible for everything. My students LOVED them. FYI: It was these binders moved my students more than a year. #SWEET #studentmotivation

Why keep a Student data binder?

Well… the answer to this is different for everyone, so I will just share why I keep one… and it’s a super simple reason: It keeps me organized. In this data obsessed age (ahh me), there is so much to keep track of. Compiling it all into a portable binder makes my life easier. No more running around to three or four different files to find current information on my seconds! I can just grab and go at a moments notice! (Who can remember all those student meetings, anyway?!) I love having my data in one place to show teachers and parents. #perfect

My idea Teacher and Student Data binders hold all things IEP in 1 place. All the IEP goal data and progress monitoring together, organized that IEP writing is a grab and write. Grade Level meeting grab and go!

Data binders are an essential component of a strong classroom learning community. Every student has their own binder.

We set goals for everything and so far it has changed the look of my classroom. We use a data binder to keep track of all the goals (think SLO or Student Learning Objectives).
Students keep guided reading books, attendance, work samples, IEP snapshot and more in their binders. 

Data binders can take many forms, but the goal is the same: to drive student performance, improvement, and self-awareness. Students can document their learning and growth over time which increases their growth by years end. #morethanayearsgrowth

Students tracking goals and their data building more intrinsically motivated students who track and met their goals.

My Teacher and Student Data Binders include:
  • Binder labels
  • Sounds/Letters both upper & lower case
  • Number Identification 0-30
  • Fry Sight Words
  • Oral Counting
  • Letter writing
  • Basic Shapes
  • Phonics Survey
  • I Can Early Math Statements
  • Graphs for all assessments included
  • Marzano’s Student Self-Assessment Rubric & Poster Set (Robots)
  • 2 different Phonics Surveys 
  • Weekly Self-Assessment
  • Reading level/Running Record Trackers
  • 2017-2018 Calendar
Other Ideas: 
  • IEP snapshots (for easy access for goal setting sessions)
  • Student/Teacher Created Rubrics
  • Anchor Charts
  • Goal Setting and Conference Sessions
  • SMART Goals
You can add what you need and make it your own.  I use my Student Data Binders to push students to challenge themselves and grow.

My Teachers Binder has ALL the formative assessments I use to track IEP growth or progress monitor. I add assessments as IEP goals change.  I don't have time to look for it. Grab and go. The best when you're being pulled in 100 different directions.   #Iknow

This system has been extremely intrinsically motivating for all my students.

Until Next Time,

Thank you for your interest-this offer has expired. 
You can find my Student & Teacher Data Binder HERE.

4 Must have iPad Apps that Give them a Voice



Everywhere you look the focus is on back to school. This review is geared to help spread the word about some incredible apps that may help your child brush up and get prepared for what lies ahead of them this school year.

I don’t want to overlook the essential organizational apps like Evernote, Keynote, or Dragon Diction. I understand that those apps may come loaded on your iPad and for many you may have personal favorites. Instead, I'm highlighting apps that give my students great voice and choice as those which can lead to deeper learning. So, with no further ado, I give you our Must Have Apps for Back to School:



I have students who HATE presenting. Tellagami gives them a chance to do just that. It's easy for them to use and create short presentations to go with their work. Bonus: it can be up-loaded to SeeSaw.



My students use Shadow Puppet for fluency work. They take pictures of their guided reading material or fluency center. They then pair it with audio. Shadow Puppet is also great for students to explain their thinking of math problems.



PicCollage is used for all thing photos. During math time, my students will take pictures of their work with manipulatives and smash it with a different app lick Shadow Puppet to add their thinking before handing it in.


At the end of the school year my students began to experiment with Chatterpix to sharing their thinking.  It works best smashed with a picture app like PicCollage.

My students do their best work with technology when they smash it with something else. App Smashing has give even my quite students a loud voice in demonstrating their thinking and showing their work.

In the world of Special Education we have to find unique ways to give students voice for them to demonstrate their learning. I hope you give them a try. These are my students favoriate. I'd can't wait to hear what your students favorite apps are.

Until next time,

PLAAFP?? What...?

I don't know about anyone else but my school district LOVES to change things all the time. Well, in this case, a major tweak for many. Last year, my state formally rolled out Present Level of Academic Achievement and Functional Performance or PLAAFP. (The soft rollout started several years ago.)

You might be telling yourself not another acronym. #not new just added too

In all the IEPs I write I always describe, tell, report my student's current level of function across all areas. In most case behavior and academic. PLAAFP adds a new layer. My building special education writes (really it's a draft) them as a team--this is the hard part but helps the team look at the whole child. It also very the student a strong voice in their IEP.

By the time the PLAAFP is finished, it informed strengths, needs, and interests. It makes things very clear and its written in a way that all stakeholders understand where the student is and where they need to go and where the student
                                                                                    what's to go.

The PLAAFP should include the following:
The student’s strengths, interests, and preferences
The area of concern and how it manifests academically and functionally
How the disability impacts the student’s participation and ability to progress in the general education curriculum
Objective data collected from testing, teacher observations, evaluations and information from IEP team members or others who know the student

A focused IEP is a much more useful than one that lacks congruity and with tons of unrelated goals. (True you can write an IEP with lots of goals to cover everything the student needs to work on but let's get real can we really target all of them with the depth needed to achieve true mastery? I myself write goals to target the root cause of those needs.)

The ability, however, to direct attention and resources to the most relevant needs the student has, in the vital context of the student’s strengths, interests, and preferences, is what gives each goal the punch it needs to meaningfully support the student in their day-to-day academic and functional pursuits.

If a goal exists in the IEP that cannot be linked back to some portion of the PLAAFP, then either the PLAAFP is incomplete or the goal does not relate to what the team identified to be the most important areas of need the student has. Cross checking each goal with the PLAAFP is a great way to check if the plan is focused and appropriate. Many times I will do this when just working formal testing data to determine strength, needs, and what more information I need to gather.

Although the term “academic” is fairly self-explanatory, the term “functional” is not as well
understood. Functional achievement speaks to the age-appropriate activities in which a student engages that are not academic: dressing, eating, grooming, working, playing, socializing, etc. These are activities and skills that will facilitate the student’s success in actively contributing to and being a valued member of his or her community.

The PLAAFP is an opportunity. It's the careful consideration in its development and the commitment to use it to guide goal writing and the identification of other supports and services is invaluable in developing the most useful and effective IEP possible.

Why does my building write them as a team--well, to get a true picture of the student. When your testing everyone does their part. Writing the PLAAFP as a team allows us to take all the pieces of the puzzle and build the puzzle together.

You can grab a copy of the template my team uses with an example here.

Until next Time,

 photo PLAAFP Instagram_1.png

#HelloSummer TpT Sale & Giveaway

 Hello Summer!! It's hard to believe it's time to start thinking about what I need for next year. Also be sure to sign up below. Some AMAZING Teachers Pay Teachers authors and I have teamed up to discount some of our best resources but ONLY for June 23 -June 25!

So hurry to TPT and type in #HelloSummer to check out the deals! 

Fancy winning some extra spending money to help you purchase everything you need for your 2017-18 classroom?  Myself and a team of amazing teachers have grouped together to gift THREE awesome teacherS a TPT giftcard - PRIZES ARE 2 x $100, and 1 x $50 TPT GIFTCARD!

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June Show & Tell Linky

Good Morning, today I'm linking up with Stephanie at "Forever in 5th Grade," to bring you a glimpse into my end of summer planning for my Special Education Resource Room. This year I'll be working with 2nd and 3rd grades. Many of these guys were with me last year. Most of my thinking has been around how I want to strength or change systems I had in place last year like communicating with parents and making it authentic for students.
I have an crazy teacher rubric, this year I'm going to swing to the fences. I have in the past talked about Personalized Learning and how I'm working to use the thinking in s Resource Special Education room. I'm adding a Data Binder this year. 

Each student will have a binder where they will keep their data, Personalized Learning Plan, rubrics, and week reflection plans. This information will be used to info IEP meetings and make it easier for students to crate a video of presentation for their IEP meetings. I also hope I can give students more responsibly like their books, progress monitoring materials, attendance, behavior, and what ever else I want them to hold on to. I chose to make the paper pieces match the divider tabs in the hopes it would help with organization and I could spend less time with missing pieces. 

I was cornered about Spring Break by my wonderful 1st grade team. They wanted dibs on having me at their Summer PD, co-planning, co-teaching--well co--anything!! How could I say no! This is new territory for them as the school is becoming a EL school and they wanted to create a team to move and grow students.  I should mention I love running with them as well. We did the Colfax Relay in May. Yes, all 26 miles.

I send home a monthly newsletter. This idea will help with two things--increase parent communication and two help students to write to an authentic audience.  I'm looking forward to see what they do. They will also be contributing authors on the classroom website. I'm hoping since we use Google Sites this idea will not be all drama and something everyone will see of high value. My team has been talking about creating 1 site and working with grade levels to have a column on their newsletters as well.

One thing that I added to my Data binders was a way for my students' for reflect on and take control of their learning and a perfect way to use it as a Formative Assessment. Last year to used Robert Marzano's Checking for Understanding. This is one of three versions I have in my Teachers pay Teacher store. Even though I'm keeping the same students just a grade older than last year--this version was perfect for them as first and second graders. This is perfect for students to self-assess and reflect on their learning, you can target specific skills they say they are missing or confused or speed up you instruction because they've got it. You can buy it from my store-click on the picture.

It's Over and the Planning Begins

It's finally Summer Vacation. As my mind starts to unfreeze, I have begun to think about "how" I move students this year. Let me backtrack. I'm an Elementary Special Education teacher. A K-3 Special Education teacher who works with Students with Learning Disabilities, ADHD, Autism and Cognitive delays who moves students. I move then more than a year. Yes, you heard me--more than a year. As strange as it is, to hear a special education teacher tell you that--I do.

Let me tell you when I first started, it was hard. I mean really hard to move them. To motivate them. To use the data that came from progress monitoring. We teachers are sitting on TONS of data. It's that data. It's that data I use to engage, motivate and most importantly MOVE students. This was not something I was taught in "teacher school" or in my first teaching position. It came and being part of conversations with classroom teachers, the many RTI trainings and figuring out how to get students to show what they know on the state assessments. (This last one was the hardest.)

Moving students is HARD. But it can be done. These days we have Student Learning Objectives (SLO) and in my world, I also have IEP goals with an exception students should make more than a year's growth regardless of what I wrote in the IEP.  (Trust me--my classroom teachers are always going "Yeah right, that's going to happen??") I'm one of those teachers who has high expectations for herself and her students. That's my first rule in moving students. Set your bar high and they will reach it.  More on this another day. Back to data.

When you ask someone about data--this is not what you get told. Data is hard. It's ugly. It tells a story. It is your friend. Filter in RTI and you get a story too. Sometimes good. Sometimes not so good. It also brings labels. Because of RTI data is not so scary and as a special education teacher, I need it. I live it. You as a special education need it too. Yes, you too classroom teachers.

I start with Strength and Needs T-Chart. I find completing this at the end of the year best but I also on the fly looking at formal assessment data. All I need it all the data from the year (making sure to have the students end of the year assessments). I look at the data for data sake. I make factual statements about it and the progress made. I let the data do the talking--no reading into it!

Once I have been through all the data--sometimes I need additional information and make that note for the fall. But I develop one or two problem statements or common threads that surface. This can be sight words, fluency, decoding concerns that look more as a need for phonics instruction. This information leads to ideas of intervention needs, lightbulbs moments, thoughts to think on and talk out with other service providers.

I'm not sure what I love more about adding this to my Everything Binder - the fact that it works on helping me reflect on my students or that it helps me plan for next year. I'm pretty obsessed.

Strengths/Needs T-Chart would make an awesome addition to your Everything Binder or you RTI Planning.

Grab your free copy HERE!

Until Next Time,

About Me

Welcome to my all thing special education blog. I empower busy elementary special education teachers to use best practice strategies to achieve a data and evidence driven classroom community by sharing easy to use, engaging, unique approaches to small group reading and math. Thanks for Hopping By.

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