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Iowa School Closures and Special Education: Now What?

Students and families across the state were impacted by the decision to close schools for the remainder of the 2019/2020 school year due to the Covid-19 pandemic. This abrupt shift left families wondering how they would make sure that their students were “ready to learn” in the fall, a standard set forth by Governor Kim Reynolds, when she made the announcement on April 17, 2020. Families of children with IEPs, receiving special education services through the schools, were perhaps hit the hardest by this announcement, especially considering the mixed messages coming out of the Department of Education in Washington, D.C.

The Department of Education ended up issuing a memo clarifying schools’ obligations to provide a FAPE to students with special education needs. The memo provided suggestions as to how schools might provide typical special education accommodations and services online, including “extensions of time for assignments, videos with accurate captioning or embedded sign language interpreting, accessible reading materials, and many speech or language services through video conferencing.”

In this memo, the USDOE states definitively that even in this time of COVID-19, school “districts must provide a FAPE consistent with the need to protect the health and safety of students with disabilities and those individuals providing education, specialized instruction, and related services to these students.” USDOE further refers the reader to an earlier USDOE publication warning districts against discrimination in response to COVID-19: “Educational institutions should take special care to ensure that all students are able to study and learn in an environment that is healthy, safe, and free from bias or discrimination.” United States Department of Education, “OCR Coronavirus Statement,” March 4, 2020.

The Iowa Department of Education has reiterated these same standards for Iowa schools. If Iowa school districts are offering continuing learning opportunities to students, then they are required to make accommodations for access for those students with disabilities. However, when it comes to receiving access to special education services, such as speech therapy or occupational therapy, the IEP teams are required to meet (typically via teleconference apps or sites) to determine if adaptations can be made and if services need to continue during this time.  Children with special education services may be eligible for “make-up” services or compensatory sessions once schools re-open if there has been regression, but this determination shall be made by the IEP team. Iowa Department of Education “FAQs for Iowa Families and Parents of Students with Disabilities receiving Special Education, or Parents of Children receiving Early Intervention,” March 26, 2020.

What Do I Do Now?

As a parent or caregiver, YOU ARE A MEMBER OF THE IEP TEAM. So often, parents feel like they play a lesser role in IEP meetings, but now, more than ever, your input will be invaluable.

  • Make a Request. Write a letter to the Director of Special Education, School Principal, or Superintendent and request a virtual meeting with the IEP team to determine if services can be re-established using technology or proper social distancing techniques so as to maintain services for your child.
  • Keep Records. Make a list of any supplementary services you acquire for your child during this time or over the summer. This includes private tutors, ABA therapies, speech therapy or other related services that you obtain for the benefit of your child. Note how often and how long these classes or sessions last, so you can identify how many hours of supplemental instruction or intervention was obtained over the break. Also, keep track of expenses incurred to access these services, as you may be able to submit them for reimbursement.
  • Note Any Changes in Your Child. Be observant of any changes in your child’s behavior or skills. Keep a journal for evidence of regression in skills or new behaviors you notice during this time. This is good place to note any interventions or services you used to deal with any changes or regression, such as emergency mental health services, medication changes or one-on-one adult supports during the day.
  • Keep All Scheduled Meetings or Due Process Hearings. Request these meetings or hearings be conducted via teleconference or video-conferencing applications. While the federal government has given schools relaxed timelines for completions of evaluations or such hearings and meetings, it is important to keep your scheduled meetings, as it prevents starting the new school year behind a back-log of IEP meetings, 504 Evaluations, etc.  Stay up-to-date and current with all meetings and ensure that your child experiences a continuity that these health care emergencies can not disrupt.

If you have questions about this post, or if you’d like help with a special education matter, please send me an email at wholeheartedwdm@gmail.com. 

Fun Facts Math Keypad

Any chance I get to jazz up the same old math facts, I take it! Writing out math facts on windows or mirrors with glass pens? Check! Beads and LEGOS? Absolutely! UNO cards? Have we met???  This easy-to-make keypad can turn any doorway, wall or floor space into a functional learning place!

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Here’s why this is such a great way to practice math facts: 

  1.  It’s cost-effective. Post-it notes work great for this project, but you can use any paper.  The point is to spread them out on a large scale.  Simply write out each individual number 0-9, just like a telephone.  Keep it in 3 x 3 columns, as opposed to putting them in a straight line.  A fun twist on this project is to trace your child’s hand and have them cut out the hands for each number (or you can do it, too). That way, they are giving a high-5 each time! Honestly, any fun shape would work!
  2. It can be done anywhere. This activity can be laid out on the floor, on a door, in a box or with a fox! HA!  Pardon my Dr. Seuss inner voice creeping out there! But you could also put this on a wall, a bathroom mirror….shall I go on? One favorite use for this activity is to write the keypad out on the driveway or sidewalk.  You could even put this on a rear-seat window in the car for car rides! Do you get the impression that I am relentless?  Lol!

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3. This activity gets kids crossing their midline.  Midline crossing helps increase  communication between both hemispheres of the brain, in addition to improving bilateral coordination in the body.

4. The mind-body connection increases your child’s ability to remember the information being learned! When we incorporate bodily movement into learning, we increase the number or neural pathways being created around that information.  When that happens, children are more likely to remember whatever we are trying to teach them, be that math facts, grammar rules, or state capitals!

Enjoy this short (poorly filmed) video demo that shows you how it works!

 

No matter how you use this concept, it is sure to be more fun and more effective than plain old rote memorization! I’d love to hear about your experience using this idea!

Spelling Squiggles!

This week, I have been sharing all sorts of literacy sites and resources under the “Home-based Learning” tab.  I wanted to take a minute and share one of my favorite spelling practice activities with you: the spelling squiggle!

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Spelling Squiggles are a cute idea for practicing repetition while incorporating mid-line crossing, heightened hand-eye coordination, and creativity.  This is WAY better than just copying words in a list! In short, using spelling squiggles to practice spelling words uses so much more of your brain than traditional spelling lists – and they look so cool when they are done!

Here’s how is works: Have your child practice drawing figure-eight shapes without a pencil, pen, crayon or marker in their hand.  They can even bend over and use their arm like an elephant trunk. Let them loosen their arms, their shoulders and their hands. Next, give them a piece of paper – for younger kids, I like bigger paper! Older kids can do just fine with 8 1/2 x 11 sheets of copy paper or notebook paper. My favorite paper for this activity is the large 3M Post-it wall pads!

3M 566, Post-it Self-Stick Wall Pad, MMM566, MMM 566 - Office ...

Next, using a black marker, crayon, or pen have your child make a totally random squiggle shape  on the paper.  There is no “wrong” shape, but the bigger and more squiggly, the more room you will have for more words.

Lastly, give your child markers, colored pencils, crayons (whatever sparks their creativity), and a list of their spelling words.  Have them fill each segment in the squiggle with one spelling word, repeated over and over to fill that space.  Some spaces may only be able to hold a few words, while others can hold a dozen! It’s up to you and your child’s creativity to decide how to fill all of the spaces! (You will notice that my demo picture has some words repeated.)

I always leave these up on the wall or the refrigerator so my kids can see the words throughout the week!

You can also use this same idea to practice math facts, filling each space with a new math fact.

Take this idea outside and use sidewalk chalk to make a squiggle in the driveway!

There are tons of ways to use this idea to practice spelling words, math facts, and much more! Add your own spin on this fun, and effective technique!

 

 

 

Learning Fun With UNO Cards

By now, you probably know how much I like using games for learning! Especially now, when kids are home with parents or caregivers, time spent playing a simple game of UNO together can be lots of fun, but why not take that same deck of UNO cards and use it to help those same kiddos work on sorting skills, math facts, and memory? Even those kids, for whom a game of UNO is too long, requires too much sitting still, or too much patience, can enjoy these activities.

Here are three different ways to use those UNO cards:

Color Sort or Number Sort

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Have kiddos sort by colors or numbers. Give them a limited stack of cards or the whole deck and have them order them numerically or by color.  (Make sure they can name the colors, as well.) Some kids will prefer a neat and tidy deck of cards to use for sorting, turning each card, one at a time.  Other kids might like to spread them all out on the floor and search for the cards, placing them in order in their unique way. Either way is fine!

Practicing Math Facts

Use Post-It notes (or 3×5 note cards or torn up pieces of paper) to show the math symbols (+, -, =)  and have kids practice their math facts.  You can sit with them as they do this, or you can have them write each fact down on a piece of paper (or even snap a pic and text it to you).  You could also give them a series of problems to work on and they can lay them out on the table or floor as they work them out.  Don’t limit yourself to two digit problems either! Take advantage of the floor space and really spread out!   Kids can use multiple cards to show the final answer (for example, using a 1 card, a 3 card and a 2 cards to show the answer as 132.)

Play Memory

When my sons were younger, I made all kinds of Memory games for them! UNO cards are one of the simplest ways to use something you already have in a fun, new way.  You will have to organize pairs of matching cards beforehand, but if you’ve already had them sort the cards, you’re half-way there! HA! Take turns turning over two cards at a time. If they match, that player gets to keep that matched pair. If they do not match, the player turns the cards back over and the next player tries to remember where the matching pairs are located.  While this game can be played alone, it is more fun played with someone else! Try it! It’s harder than you may remember!

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I hope you find these options to be simple and effective! While it may be tempting to have your kids (no matter the age) sit at the table to do these things, I encourage you to let them sit or lay on the ground to play these games. By doing so, their bodies may be more relaxed and they may be able to focus easier because they are more comfortable.  Also, the gentle joint compression we experience when we are on our knees and hands (like when we are putting together a floor-sized puzzle) can alleviate stress throughout the body and ease anxiety or hyperactivity.

Don’t own a deck of UNO cards yet?  Find them on Amazon HERE.  Target currently has UNO for $5.99, so you might want to check them out first. Click HERE for Target’s listing.

 

Simple Schoolwork Modifications or Adaptations to Help Children with Special Needs During School Closures

The US Department of Education released a new fact sheet (Read it HERE) on March 21st providing clarification on whether schools should wait until special access for students with disabilities can be arranged before attempting to provide online instruction or distance learning to students, in general. There are many who feel this is an attempt to deny FAPE to students who may not be able to access online tools like Zoom or Google Classroom, while other parents are glad for interactive lessons instead of packets or paper schoolwork for their children.  While the legal community has yet to weigh-in definitively, parents and caregivers are confronting the daily reality of educating their children at home without the benefit of a teaching degree or trained specialists to help. For this reason, I felt it was important to provide parents and caregivers with some tips and tricks for modifying school work to help children who may struggle with traditional methods of instruction.

School’s closed?! Now what?

If, like me, you recently found out that your child’s school will not be returning to normal programming after spring break, you are in good company! You might also be panicking a little. Am I right?

There is really no need for panic! We’ve got you covered on this! As a middle school/high school teacher and homeschooling parent with over 20 years of experience adapting lessons and maximizing each day, no matter the circumstance, THIS is right up my alley!

Today, Wholeheartedlearning.com will introduce a new tab: Home-based Learning. Under this tab, I will share daily links, printables, activities and lessons to help kids of all ages keep learning when they can not be in the classroom. Want to know the best part? The things I share will need little to no preparation by parents or caregivers, use only items you probably already have at home, and won’t require you to teach! How great is that?!? Teaching is my passion, but it doesn’t have to be yours! All of my lessons will have guidance, but will not require you to have any special knowledge, know any magical learning techniques, or know the secret teaching code. All you will need to do is provide a little supervision for younger kids and maybe help little hands. How easy is that?

Life can change rapidly! Thankfully, you are not alone, and we will find learning opportunities, joy-filled moment and lots to be curious and excited about TOGETHER!

 

 

 

Great Games to Enhance Learning

The rainy days of spring are upon us and summer vacation will soon be peeking around the corner.  As a parent, I was always looking for ways to keep my boys off their screens, if only for a while.  Board and card games can be a great way to encourage family connections, improve social skills and even support areas where kiddos may struggle in the classroom.  Let me show you what I mean!

Take the game Apples to Apples, for example. This fun word association game is a favorite with upper elementary and middle schoolers! Not only is this game great for supporting social skills, it also encourages planning, reasoning, and creative thinking.  Because kids don’t have to wait to submit their answers, kids who struggle waiting their turn to play traditional games can still be included and those kids who think outside of the box may find that kind of creative thinking is rewarded in a game like Apples to Apples. 

Did you know that taking turns is a foundational skill for conversation and communication? Often, kids on the Autism Spectrum struggle with taking turns during play and researchers believe that this may also inhibit their ability to have conversations with peers and adults.  Games for younger ages that encourage turn taking (along with other skills) include Monkey Around, by Peacable Kingdom, or Zingo, by Thinkfun. Traditional Board games like Candy Land and Hi Ho Cherry-O also reinforce turn-taking, along with color recognition and counting.

Below is a chart of some of our favorite games cross-referenced with cognitive skills they encourage.

Do you have a favorite game you like to play at home or in the classroom? Please share it in the comments!

 ReasoningMemoryNumber conceptsQuick thinkingProblem SolvingMotor SkillsSequencingVisual ProcessingCause and Effect
Acorn Soup  X  XX  
Apples to ApplesX   X    
BattleshipXX  X    
BanagramsX   X XX 
Blink XXX X X 
Bop-ItX XX X   
Candy Land       XX
Chutes and LaddersX X     X
Connect 4X XXXXX  
FluxXX XX X X
Jenga    XX XX
Last LetterXX XX XX 
Mad GabXX XX    
Oh Snap    XX  X
Perfection XXXXXXXX
Rat -a-tat CatXX XX  X 
ScrabbleX   X X  
SequenceXX  X XX 
Simon XXX XXX 
SlamwichXXXX  XXX
SlapjackXXXX  XX 
Skip-Bo  X   XX 
Snug As a Bug In a RugXXX  XXXX
Spot It X     X 
SuspendX   XX XX
What’s Gnu    X XX 

Toggling: How This Old-School Process Can Help Struggling Learners Today

By definition, to “toggle” is to join one thing to another, or (in its verb form) to move from one thing to another. As education continues to draw on the wisdom of brain development and neuroscience, the process of “toggling” is on the cusp of becoming the new buzzword, the hot new technique in education. The irony lies in the fact that parents, educators, and families have been doing this for generations! Toggling, as it is used in neurodevelopment, applies to the process of moving from one concrete educational activity to one that reinforces the same general principle, but in a less formal manner. For example, students can memorize the names of the continents, but rote memorization does little to actually increase knowledge or create a scaffold upon which to build more complex understanding of geography. Toggling, in this situation, might be to have students use a puzzle of the world to reinforce the skill of identifying the continents. Another example might be to have students color maps of the continents or read/listen to a story about a character who travels the world, jumping from continent to continent.

If this sounds a lot like the kindergarten/early elementary classrooms you remember as a child, you’d be right! The shift toward more qualitative educational strategies has pushed many of these supplemental activities off the table, but for many students, these activities are the gateway to learning!

How does toggling work? Toggling allows learning to occur in a passive manner. Put another way, toggling is when learning takes place “in the background.” That explanation might make toggling seem like a quaint and novel concept, but here’s the thing about toggling: it is essential to learning!

Memory (and learning) is constructed from neural pathways that are non-linear, but that fire together in the brain as patterns. Neuroscientists call these “base patterns.” We link ideas and memories together in an infinite number of combinations, and these combinations are constantly being modified and enhanced through sensory stimuli. Scientists have long known that to increase a memory or skill, one should attach it to as many senses as possible, in large part because the brain patterning is enhanced each time new stimuli from the brain correlates with that same memory or skill. To say it plainly, the more ways we can engage students in learning, using multiple senses, environments, and experiences, the more likely they are to remember it and be able to apply it later. More importantly, toggling allows for the brain to “work around” difficulties like dyslexia or hyperactivity or even personal preconceptions about what students are “good at.” These kinds of barriers can be side-stepped when we employ toggling to reconnect learners to information!

How can you use toggling to help your learner? Go outside and play catch or ride bikes while talking about concepts from school that day. Ask your son or daughter to help you roll out cookie dough and talk about his or her spelling words, science topic or history facts. If you homeschool, toggling can look the same way as I just described or you can employ any of the ideas above. Take a day off from textbook learning to play a math-based board game! Build cities from ancient history out of LEGOs while listening to an audiobook on the same topic! Curricula like “The Story Of The World” and Writing With Ease offer lots of ways for students to practice “learning in the background.” The key to toggling is to downshift learning from the structure of concrete instruction. Allow kids to play more, interact with as many sensory experiences as possible, and use their imaginations!

Homeschool Writing – News and Editorials

groundhogdayThis past election cycle made my job as a teacher very difficult.  It seemed as though each week, some conversation would start up about the presidential election.  As someone who ardently believes that middle school and high school students need a safe space to explore their ideas and opinions in a respectful, factual way, it was always tricky to maintain a free and open environment for those conversations! We opened the new semester exploring news reporting, and it couldn’t have come at a more relevant time!

For the past three weeks, my hsap kids and I have been busy learning about the 5 W’s of good news writing. We have had great conversations about the role of journalism and how much journalism relies on research (pre-writing) and fact-checking. While I required their news stories to be timely, true and have broad appeal, there were those students who found it difficult to leave their biases behind.  Thankfully, we have transitioned into editorial writing; just in time for those who could not wait for the editorial opportunity to share their opinions!

Here is a PowerPoint presentation I used last week to not only introduce editorial writing, but also to help the younger students grasp the concepts behind good opinion writing.  OREOS, anyone?

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We will soon use the skills from news writing and opinion writing to launch us into a mini-unit on debate! Can’t wait!

By Student Request: The Book List

One of my writing and book club students came to me about a month ago and said that she had set the big goal of reading 300 books this year! How exciting, right!?! The problem was that she was running out of ideas for book titles.  I immediately knew that I would give her a copy of this master book list I found online about a year prior, while seeking out titles for my own kids to read.  Ever since I gave this student “the list,” I have had others come and ask me for a copy.  So here it is, the master list! More book titles than you can shake a stick at, and definitely more than I could read in a single summer!

BookRecommendationforMiddleGradesbyCategoryReadingLists