Sunday, September 19, 2010

Writing Journal - Enhancing Memory Retention

Last year I posted about the Creative Writing Journal we kept throughout the year. In it Gess would write down something that she learned that day. I started with the sentence "Today in school I learned about..." and she would write down one subject or topic and draw a picture about it. By the end of the year she was writing the entire sentence. Our goal for the journal was to not to simply work on writing skills, though it is helpful for that, but to help Gess answer the question "What did you do today?" In order for her to answer that, she had to think about what we had done. Since her memory retention was limited she almost always just said the last subject we studied unless I cued her to remember another subject (which I often did.) So this year, her speech therapist and I came up with an idea that we hope will help Gess retain the information throughout her day.

To challenge Gess a bit we decided that this year we would have Gess choose two things that she learned during her day instead of just one. In order to assist her in remembering what all she has studied we decided to have a sort of visual check list that she will fill out at the end of each subject. Then, when she goes to write in her journal, if she can not remember what she learned she can reference this to help her remember. So I found images that I thought would be helpful for each subject and made this list.

So after we finish reading she writes down the subject for that day which might be the subject of the story we read or simply just "spelling" or "vocabulary" and things like that. Then we circle exactly what we did for that topic. For each subject (except for writing) I have the following images: (These will vary depending upon your own curriculum and subjects, etc.)

Reading - For read text book, reader, etc.

Each subject also has an image or two that represents unique things we do in that class. Below are a list of unique images by subject:

Reading - Spelling Words
Math - Blocks/Manipulatives
Writing - Free Writing, Chalk Board Work
Science - Lab/Experiments
Social Studies - Map Work

I then have an "Other" category for days we may do something extra or special. I have yet to use that column.

So when it is time for our journal I will have her write the sentence "Today I learned about..." I first see if can think of two subjects on her own (so far she has not). If she can not remember on her own she just turns to her sheet.

Then she writes the sentence and draws a picture. It comes out something like this. (We are working on penmanship and staying in the lines, but that is not my main focus here.)

I will be anxious to see if by the end of the year she will be able to fill out her journal without the use of the sheet. If she does seem to pick up on it and not need it I will enhance it by having her write more than two subjects at a time. I want it to remain a challenge for her memory retention as well as a tool to use at the end of the week to share with her daddy the favorite things she learned about in school.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Dealing With Emotions, Temper and Anger

Over the last year Gess has started expressing fear over things like heights, the dark and things at the doctor's office. Along with that she has also displayed some really defiant behavior. It is not the simple fear or behavioral issues that I became concerned about, every child goes through those. In her case, she would become so upset or distraught that she would simply become unreasonable and it just seemed like there was no way to talk her down. It was like she would just shut down and the episode would then spin out of control. Since this was all new behavior for her I was striving for a way to deal with it.

Typically if Gess started to disobey we could simply provide her with options and she would usually choose the option that would make her obey. Option 1 (raising first index finger) would be to obey and option 2 (raising my next finger) would be whatever the proper punishment for not obeying would entail. It even got the point where I didn't have to explain the options. I would raise each finger one at a time. She would point to the first, and then begin to obey. Life was so much easier when this worked!

There are actually still times when it does work. However, I had to find some way to address the really defiant behavior. To do this, I first tried to see if there might be a cause behind the rebellious behavior. For Gess I think the biggest reason is she wants more independence. The girl is almost 9 years old and she rightfully wants the freedom most 9 year olds have. However Gess still tends to wander off when not supervised so she is not really given the freedom to go and do things other her kids her age do. This makes it difficult for kids with special needs. They want a freedom they are not capable of having. It is understandable that would be frustrating and this knowledge helped us to implement some positive changes.

First off, I became very mindful of offering Gess as many positive choices as possible, and not only during the defiant behavior. When Gess is behaving appropriately I try to grant her as much responsibility or decision making as I can. From the little things like what do you want to eat, or where would you like to go, to which direction in the store should we head first, etc. No decision is too small. I also made sure that I started placing things like plates, cups and healthy snack foods in easy to reach places and offering other ways for her to be more independent.

I then began trying to take her feelings into account when making my decisions as well. If I needed to run to the store and she was playing a game, I would start giving her a 5 minute warning in which I actually set a timer. That way she knew in 5 minutes we had to leave. That helped tremendously as she would willingly quit when the timer went off. Warnings at the park before time to leave are also helpful. Granted, I know there are times when this is not doable, sometimes I have to leave right away, but I find that she is more willing to obey when most of the time her interests are respected.

Now that we had the positive reinforcements in place, we were ready to tackle the instances when the bad behavior occurred. The thing I wanted most was for Gess to remain reasonable. I think she gets frustrated because she does not think we know or understand how she actually feels. So I made a Velcro board in which she could learn to 1) explain to us how she felt and then 2) choose to express those feelings in an appropriate manner.

I found some good emotion cards to use at Do2Learn. I then tried to think up some good choices for Gess to make in response to those emotions and put them on another card. I then made one final card that said:
I am __________

I need to ___________

Now she could choose which emotion she felt and which option she would choose. We would then talk about how to do that.

So far this has really been working great! I think now that Gess understands she can tell us what is wrong, she loses much of the initial frustration from the incident. The hard part is to come up with the choices that might best fit the situation. We have already seen such an improvement from this that we hardly have to actually use it. Now we simply ask Gess what is wrong and cue her to say "I am..." and let her finish the sentence. Then we ask her "what do you need to do to?" She will then say something like "I need to calm down." So we walk her through how to do that, like going to sit in her room or somewhere else that is quiet until she calms down.

Other options are I need a hug, I need to cry, I need be alone, I need to be with you, I need to talk about it, and so forth.

I also have positive behavior options and randomly do the board when she is in a good mood. This way this does not turn into a punishment that she simply chooses to shut down from. I have the emotions like happy, pleased and excited for which I use choice options like I need a high five or I need to cheer. So far this has been quite successful. I am sure it is not the answer to all of our behavioral issues but it certainly seems like a great tool to use to help a child learn some appropriate ways to deal with their emotions.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Social Studies - Heritage Studies 1 from BJU Press

Well, Gess had her surgery which went really well. She had a rough first week home as her throat got infected but after some stronger antibiotics we are finally healing up. She is doing much better now so we started school on Monday August 30.

We had a really great first day of school and I think I will like all the choices I have made for this year. Today I will share what we are doing for Social Studies.

I have really struggled to find a curriculum that works well for Gess in this area. Gess should probably be in the 3rd grade, however for social skills and interaction in group activities we generally keep her one grade behind that. With that said, we are still mostly in grade 1 materials. So when I grabbed a new Social Studies Curriculum I decided to stay back at level 1.

One reason is that I really want books that Gess can read by herself, not ones that I have to read to her. While her vocabulary is really advanced and she can read the words in 2nd grade materials, she struggles reading print that is too small. Even with her glasses she still seems to need large print. I also want her to experience the independence of being able to do some of the work on her own. I also wanted worksheets, tests and materials to be easy to adapt to special needs and offer hands on experiences. After much search I finally settled on Heritage Studies 1 by Bob Jones University (BJU) Press. I found it pretty cheap on Ebay and we started using it this week.

I have found the student Text Book to be visually appealing and the text rather large so Gess can read it really well. The worksheets and tests seem to be really adaptable to special needs also. The tests offers things like matching items and circling the answers which are often in picture form rather than text. The visual choices are great for children with special needs. It really sets the test up in a way that they can succeed.

The material also seems to be more of a hands on nature. Our very first lesson took us outside making lakes in the backyard to enforce the concept that lakes (and other bodies of water) are simply water in "low" places in the earth. She not only read it but now understands that the water needs be in land that is lower than the land around it so that water can not run off. We made our "puddles" in the back yard and then talked about how that same concept on a larger scale is what makes ponds, lakes and oceans.

After we made our "lakes", we went inside and read our text book. The next day we began learning about maps and how the blue parts on the map represent the water that is in low places on the earth and the green parts is dry land that is on higher places. This makes much more sense now that she has seen how a body of water is made. I just love real life hands on examples. I think for review we will be feeding the ducks at the lake on Friday and talking about how that lake was made! What a fun way to end the lesson, don't you think?


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