Monthly Archives: August, 2013

Special Education in Texas: The Difference between Diagnosis and Disability

Diagnosis vs. DisabilityThis is a confusing point of Special Education for many teachers and parents. Students may be diagnosed by a doctor outside of school as having a certain diagnosis, however students may only qualify for Special Education services if they fall under one of the disability categories set forth by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA. Moreover, each state has the ability to define those categories as they see fit, as long as they retain the key elements of IDEA.

The federal law (IDEA) uses the following terms to define a “child with a disability”:

  • Autism,
  • Deaf-blindness,
  • Deafness,
  • Emotional disturbance,
  • A hearing impairment,
  • Intellectual Disability,
  • An orthopedic impairment,
  • Other health impairment,
  • A specific learning disability,
  • A speech or language impairment,
  • Traumatic brain injury,
  • A visual impairment including blindness, or
  • Multiple disabilities.

Texas uses the following list of disability categories to determine if a student (aged 3-21) is eligible for special education and related services:

  • Auditory Impairment (AI)
  • Autism (AU)
  • Deaf-Blindness (DB)
  • Emotional Disturbance (ED)
  • Intellectual Disability (ID) (formerly called Mental Retardation)
  • Multiple Disabilities (MD)
  • Orthopedic Impairment (OI)
  • Other Health Impairment (OHI)
  • Learning Disability (LD)
  • Speech Impairment (SI)
  • Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)
  • Visual Impairment (VI)
  • Non-Categorical Early Childhood (NCEC)

Disability is determined through evaluation by a licensed school psychologist, and accepted by a committee that includes the student’s parent or legal guardian during the initial Admission, Review and Dismissal committee meeting. If a child doesn’t qualify for Special Education services, they may still be eligible for services to be provided under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 to ensure that their individual educational needs are met as adequately as those of non-disabled students.


Collins Writing Program

Collins Writing Curriculum


Teachers usually know what to expect from those few weeks just prior to the arrival of students. There are a few housekeeping meetings with HR and payroll. Then, there might be a session to review safety protocols and go over the curriculum. If you are lucky, someone brings in some good, strong coffee and doughnuts. Everyone is anxious to get into their rooms and work. You always hope for engaging professional development sessions, but you don’t always get them. Today was that session: Collins Writing Program by none other than John Collins himself. Dr. Collins is a product of Boston University and the University of Massachutes, so his accent along was enough to keep me engage, but it was his hands-on approach that made the hours fly by. Our curriculum coordinator started off the session by relaying how she had first come across this writing program. She told us how this writing program had just “made sense” to her and that she hoped to bring this writing program to our school. Of course, she’s required to get us excited about the speaker because that is the job of the person that is making the introductions, correct? As soon as he started speaking, I knew that this was probably going to be the highlight our teacher training week.

If you haven’t heard of this writing program, I think it will change your life. It is writing program that is designed to be implemented across the curriculum. It is a way of learning to write, and more importantly, it is a way of writing to learn. The program consists of five types of writing. Each type has a purpose: brainstorming, responding, individual editing, peer review, and publishing. There are a lot of built in engagement strategies, but it isn’t just about engagement. It gets kids thinking and processing through writing. Dr. Collins also touched on strategies for summarizing that support the Type 3 and 4 writing processes, as well as using Type 1 writing to building vocabulary and background knowledge. All of the types of writing integrate with each other, can be used independently or interwoven, and truly can be used in every classroom to fortify student learning.

If you still aren’t even a little bit curious to go and check it our for yourself, the other pillar of the Collins Writing Program is helping teachers increase student achievement while decreasing the amount of time they spend grading and scoring papers. I think we can expect to see huge gains from students in their level of independence and their confidence in their writing if our teachers implement this curriculum with validity in their classrooms.

If you have more questions about Collins Writing, be sure to check out the FAQ page. Also, check back throughout the year for updates on how I am implementing the Collins Writing Program in my resource classroom, as well as how I am supporting other teachers who might be using the program in my co-taught classes. Also, don’t forget to ‘like’ me on Facebook , follow me on Pinterest and drop me a line if you have a great lesson, activity or story from middle school that you would like to share!

Texas Special Education Terms: Part 1

Special Education Terms Part 1

“Make sure that you base your IEP on the TEKS, and don’t forget about OT/PT.”

If you have ever listened to a group of  Special Education teachers for any length of time, you might start to wonder if they developed their own language. Special Education terms can vary by state, or even between districts.  It’s not always easy to keep everything straight, so I have put together a short list of commonly used Special Education terms that I thought might be helpful for teachers, parents, or anyone interested in finding out more about Special Education. I will post new terms as the year goes on. Here are a handful of terms to get you started.

  • ARD – These letters stand for Admission, Review, and Dismissal.  The purpose of the ARD meeting is to provide an opportunity for parents and educators to discuss and develop an educational program for the student (the I.E.P.)  The ARD must take place at least once each school year, although it can happen anytime decisions about the student need to be made. The group of people who make educational decisions about the student are known as the ARD committee. Participants in this committee can include, but are not limited to: the student, parents and/or legal guardians, the student’s case manager, the Special Education coordinator, general education teachers that work directly with the student, speech therapists, occupational therapists, physical therapists, parent advocates, and social workers.
  • IEP – Individual Education Plan. This is the legal written document developed for an individual identified as having a disability according to IDEA. It is the written plan that details the student’s present level of academic achievement and functional performance (PLAAF), results of state and district-wide assessments, transition plan (begins at age 15the special education goals, services and related services that are to be provided to the individual student.  Parents and school staff work together to develop the IEP at the ARD meeting. The IEP must be reviewed at least annually.
  • SPED or Spec. Ed. – Special Education. Special Education services are provided at no cost to parents, to meet the unique needs of a child with a disability, including instruction conducted in the classroom, in the home, in hospitals and institutions, and in other settings; and instruction in physical education. This term may be used in reference to the “SPED teacher” or “SPED Department”. Best practice is moving away from this term, especially when used to refer to “SPED students”. It is more appropriate to use person first language, such as ‘students with Special Education needs’ or ‘student receiving Special Education services’. TEA provides an excellent side-by-side comparison of federal regulations, the Commissioner’s/SBOE Rules, and Texas state laws.
  • Gen. Ed. – General Education. The general education classroom and curriculum. In Texas the general education curriculum is the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills, or the TEKS.
  • IDEA – Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, also known as Public Law 94-142.  First passed in 1975, this law established the right of school-age students with disabilities to receive “free appropriate public education”, also known as FAPE. The law was amended in 1996 to include preschool-aged children with disabilities ages three through five. Essentially, this law provides the minimum requirements each state must meet in order to receive federal special education funds.
  • LRE – Lease Restrictive Environment. A legal mandate of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, IDEA, this term refers to the right of every student to be educated with non-disabled peers to the maximum extent appropriate. This is one of the most controversial terms in the IDEA law. Texas interprets the Least Restrictive Environment to be the general education classroom. Clear documentation of the discussion leading up to the decision and the outcome of the discussion must be placed in the student’s IEP if the ARD committee determines that the student will not participate in the general education classroom and/or curriculum for all or part of the day.

Let me know what terms you would like to see defined, and be sure to like my page on Facebook and share with other middle school teachers! Thanks!

Don’t forget to document your phone conversations!

Phone Log Documentation

As a Special Education teacher, I know how important it is to document everything, but I will be the first to admit that when things get crazy I don’t always do the best job of logging my phone conversations. Sometimes a parent calls when I’m not right by my desk, or when I’m rushing out the door to pick up my own kids from school. I scribble some notes on the first piece of paper or Post-it note I can find, and drop it in my file. This year I vowed to have a more systematic way of logging phone conversations, and making sure that I was following up with parents. Sometimes there are things I need to do on my end before I follow up with parents, so I create this phone log with that in mind. I plan to make a binder that I can keep near my desk or take with me to log conversations as they happen. Worst case scenario, if I have to grab a scratch piece of paper, at least I will have a central location to transfer the information to once I am able to do so. With only one call per page, it will be easy to copy if needed for inclusion in a student’s file or evidence of communication should any disputes arise.

Nominated for TWO Liebster Awards!

I want to thank Mandi at Life with Middle Schoolers and Danielle at Oh, My Science Teacher! for both nominating me for a Liebster Award! I feel like I must be doing something right. This award is given to bloggers who have less than 200 followers. It helps other bloggers get to know us “newbies” and helps circulate great new blogs for all to read!

There are a few rules/guidelines:

  1. You have to link back to the blog(s) that nominated you.
  2. Answer the questions posted by the person that nominated you.*
  3. Share 11 random facts about yourself.
  4. Nominate 5 more blogs that have less than 200 followers.
  5. Post 11 questions for your nominees to answers.

11 Questions…Answered

*Since I was nominated by two different bloggers, I’m going to pick a selection of 11 questions from each of their blogs! It takes a long time to answer these questions!

1. What’s your guilty pleasure?

I love to sit outside at Starbucks with a Pumpkin Spice latte, people watching and enjoying the crisp fall air.

2. What’s your favorite part of starting the school year?

I love meeting my students and meeting the teachers that I will be working with. There is so much positive energy at the beginning of the year. I wish I could bottle it up and save it for February!

3. What’s the worst thing about starting the school year?

Getting up early and getting everybody back into a our school routine.

4. What advice would you give to teachers for starting the new school year?

Take the time to organize yourself now because three weeks from now, you won’t have time! Putting in the extra work to plan and prepare seems tedious, but the payoff is huge. Many new teachers skip the planning part because they think that they have it “all in their head”. You don’t. You are a better teacher when you plan.

5. What is your favorite professional book?

I am constantly referring to my book “Behavior Management” by John Maag.

6. Where did you study and what was your degree in?

I have a bachelor’s degree in Fine Art from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. I also have a Master’s degree in Special Education from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, plus I’m just 3 credits away from another Master’s degree in Curriculum and Instruction in Art Education.

7. How many years’ experience do you have?

I will be starting my 4th year of teaching. I also spent also spent 3 year working as a para-educator which was trial by fire and a great learning experience. I have a lot of respect for paras.

8. What is your opinion on the Common Core?

I have lived and taught in two of the five states (Nebraska and Texas) that don’t use Common Core, so I’m not as familiar with it as I probably should be. I am anxious to learn more about it.

9. Give me a book recommendation and tell us why.

The best book I read this summer was “Cinder” by Marissa Meyer. I love books that turn familiar stories on their head, and make you look at it from a different perspective. This book is part of the Lunar Chronicles. I also love series because I when I finish one book, I can move on to the next one!

10. Coffee VS tea?

Coffee, for sure! My Verismo machine will definitely be accompanying me to school this year.

11. Is the glass half-empty or half-full?

The glass is always half-full. There is no point in going through life any other way!

11 Random Facts

  1. I start every morning with a cup of coffee.
  2. I drive a stick shift.
  3. My first major in college was Biology.
  4. I recently moved to from Nebraska to Texas.
  5. I have at least five machines/methods for making coffee in my house.
  6. I have travelled across country with two small children in the car and made it home alive.
  7. I hate high-heels.
  8. I hoard fabric.
  9. My husband is from Brazil.
  10. I have a basic proficiency in Portuguese.
  11. My favorite station on Songza is “Sunshine Indie Pop”!

Bloggers you should follow

  1. Surviving and Thriving: Teaching Middle School Social Studies
  2. Middle School Stories
  3. Middle School Teacher to Literacy Coach

11 Questions…Asked

  1. What made you decide to start a blog?
  2. What made you go into teaching?
  3. How many years have your been teaching?
  4. What do you teach?
  5. What would you do if you weren’t a teacher?
  6. Have you ever been to another country?
  7. Do you speak any other languages?
  8. What advice do you have for new teachers?
  9. What is your favorite lesson?
  10. What is your favorite app or technology for the classroom?
  11. What was the best thing you did this summer?

New Teacher To-Do List for Special Education Teachers

If you are a special education teacher, the beginning of your year looks a little differently than it does for the content area teachers. Unless you are teaching an intervention class, you probably don’t have a room to prepare and you aren’t busy thinking about lesson plans. It can feel like there really isn’t anything to do except get your office organized and wait to meet your students. At least that is how I felt my first year. I didn’t know where to start.

While there is an element of waiting involved because you need to assess the students on your caseload before you can really begin any intervention, there are some things you can be working on during those teacher workdays to get yourself ahead of the game.

1. Get your caseload. First things first: you need to know who your students are before you can really start doing much of anything. Your Special Education coordinator should have this information, more or less, by the start of the school year. There are always little last minute changes, but you should have a solid list by the time you show up for teacher workdays.

2. Make student files/folders. I like to have one manila folder to keep each student’s important data. Don’t make it complicated, or you won’t use it.

SPED manilla folder

3. Figure out your student’s class schedules. This is also a good thing to staple onto the front your student folder, and stick a copy in your teacher binder. This comes in handy when you are trying to locate students for progress monitoring.

4. Create your teacher information binder.

Teacher Binder

5. Write a letter to parents, introducing yourself as their child’s case manager. It’s good to make that first connection early. Starting out on the right foot with parents will set your year up for success. Open communication between parents and teachers is essential when it comes to helping your students meet their IEP goals for the year.


6. Familiarize yourself with your student’s IEP and MDT information. This is a great way to get to know your students before you meet them. You can learn their strengths, what they worked on last year, and most importantly their goals for the upcoming year. It is also a good idea to note if you have any yearly review meetings right of the bat, so you can get everything in order. **More on that in a future post!**

7. Locate the assessment materials you will need for progress monitoring. Sometimes these can be hidden away in a book closet, or have been unintentionally hoarded by another teacher (gasp!). Ask around. Find out what your school and your district approves for math, reading, and writing probes. You will probably receive some information about this at new teacher orientation. You will want these materials ready to go in the first couple weeks so that you can assess where your students are at, and use the assessments to begin working on strategies with them.

7. Introduce yourself to your co-teachers, and schedule a time to plan together. Take the initiative and get this relationship off to the best start. A great co-teaching relationship can be a wonderful experience, but an poor one can make your year seem 18 months long. Show your co-teacher that you are ready and willing to jump in and be by his/her side, not standing in the back of the room.

Hopefully, this will help new Special Education teachers figure out where to start on those first few days. Don’t worry, once the year gets going, you won’t have any trouble finding things to do!!

I’m live on Teachers Pay Teachers!

I love Teachers Pay Teachers. As I was working on my beginning of the year things, I started playing around with making them more…attractive. Then, I decided that if I was going to go to that much work to make my stuff look nice, I might as well share. I don’t expect to join the 20K club anytime soon, but I would be happy if you found the stuff I made useful and shared with your teacher friends! Go check out my Special Education Teacher Binder on TpT and let me know what you think. Thanks!Image

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