Sunday, September 18, 2016

Teaching the Tasks (part 3): Addressing the Questions We Ask When Designing Tasks

  • Does the task address the student’s educational goals?
  •  Is the task multi-modal?
  •  Does the task incorporate student’s interests and strengths?
  •  Is the task created using visual cues that will be meaningful to the individual student?
  •  Are pieces of the task organized systematically?
  •  Is the task designed so that the student can manage it independently?
  •  Has the student mastered the task?  

We addressed the first question in the Teaching the Tasks part 1 and the second question in the Teaching the Tasks part 2 . This entry will discuss the third question: 

Does the Task Address the Students’ Interests and Strengths?

Many of our students have difficulty engaging with a task and sustaining attention once engaged.  We find, if we incorporate their interests into our task designs, they are able to pay attention quite well.  Assess how easy or difficult it is to capture your students’ attention.  If they need help with this ability, determine both their interests and their areas of strength and how these could be used when working on their educational goals. 

To encourage a student’s participation for a turn-taking game with a peer, we added pictures of his favorite toys, Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends.  While throwing the balls into the basket, he and his playmate stand on the pictures.  His interest in the characters increases the likelihood that he will join the game. Once engaged, however, he learns playing the game with a friend can also be interesting and fun.

This student had a special interest in cats and knew the names of most breeds.  We used this interest when creating a task to work on her filing skills.  She had to identify the first letter of the breed and then place the cat card behind that alphabet letter.

Many of our students have both interests and strength in letters and numbers.  This student did not like touching squishy textures.  By placing the texture (pudding) into a plastic bag and asking him to touch for the purpose of writing letters, he was willing to give it a try.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Creating Curriculum Activities for Classroom Units and Themes (Plus Sept. 2016 Task of the Month)

When we consulted in a specific classroom, we were amazed at the skills the students learned. Children we doubted would read because of their cognitive challenges read. Children we doubted would ever speak spoke a few words. We believed much of this surprising skill development was a result of how well the teacher integrated a monthly or bimonthly theme into her curriculum in all learning centers. Having a lengthy period for one theme allowed for the repetitive practice that the children needed.

The teacher would choose to present the theme primarily through a book that had repetitive lines and clear colorful pictures, whether the pictures were true to life photos or fun illustrated fiction. She also used accompanying books that emphasized vocabulary associated with the theme.

These words became the focus for expressive and receptive language and literacy skill development. In addition, she and her assistant would create multi-modal tasks and games that illustrated the theme within each curriculum area.

To help illustrate how to create a well-rounded collection of tasks based on just one simple unit of study we wrote a story book that supported a food theme and included vocabulary and concepts important for early learners. We had Michael Arrigo create clear and colorful illustrations. Triggy became the character in the book who had tough decisions to make about his food and drink choices.

Then to demonstrate how to integrate this food theme throughout the early learner curriculum, we put together our book Tasks Galore:  Literature-Based Thematic Units.

As a new school year begins, the September Task of the Month consists of two tasks from this book. The integrated approach to learning a unit or theme as demonstated in Tasks Galore: Literature-Based ThematicUnits represents a best practice for all early learners. We have seen the benefits of these useful strategies when we watched students gain new skills using a multi-modal approach to learning. Thus, we feel this approach is a very important one for educators of preschoolers and early elementary students to adopt.

The first task is in the vocabulary and language section in the literacy chapter of Tasks Galore Literature-Based Thematic Units. Children pick an action card, read the words, look at the picture, and pretend the action. This gives students practice reading the words they encounter in the story as well as an opportunity to generalize their reading to a new situation. Students demonstrate their comprehension of the words. Practicing the actions within other play scripts also helps generalize the vocabulary.

This activity can be taught during 1-on-1 teaching times, practiced during independent table times, and then provided to the students in a housekeeping or block center. We teach students how to both set up the activity and pretend the actions.

The second task is in the science - physical science section of the book.

Students take a food card and rank it according to the descriptions: “I like it best,” “It is OK,” or “Yucky, I do not like this.” They place the card beside their rating.

Young children and students with special needs often require that abstract terms be presented in concrete ways. Here, for example, the abstract word, “favorite,” might be more easily understood when a thermometer enables students to visualize the meaning. Because they primarily learn about their world through sensory experiences, abstract thoughts and intangible concepts are difficult to grasp. It is important, therefore, to focus science lessons around things that the children actually can see, hear, touch, taste, and smell. As a result, they continually are immersed in science as they discover new and different ideas about how the world, themselves, and others work. Such discoveries enable science to become real.

Using this one simple story book there are sections in Tasks Galore Literature-Based Thematic Units on
  •  Literacy (Vocabulary and Language, Phonological Awareness, Knowledge of Print, Letters and Words, Comprehension, Books and Other Text and Source of Enjoyment)
  • Numeracy (Patterns, Number Concepts, Geometry and Spatial Sense, Measurement, Data Collection and Money)
  •  Science (Physical Science, Life Science, Earth and the Environment
  •  Social Studies (Spaces and Geography, People and How They Live, People and the Environment, People and the Past)
Each section has a wide array of activities and descriptions for differing cognitive levels within the context of the curriculum. Our hope is that teachers will be able to develop a multitude of curriculum activities based on their own current theme or unit of study.

The start of the school year is always a fun-filled time for students, families and teachers. We hope this book will serve as a wonderful guide to make learning fun and meaningful.

Be sure to follow us on Facebook for fun giveaways and sales. September’s giveaway will be the two-book set of TasksGalore: Literature-Based Thematic Units and the online sale for September and October will be for this book as well! So be sure to check it out! This sale will only be available on through our website.