Visual Thinking Strategies

Visual Thinking Strategies engages students in discussion.
Visual Thinking Strategies engages students in discussion.

A popular book study in our K-12 Professional Development offerings was Visual Thinking Strategies by Philip Yenawine. Teachers at all grade levels found this strategy helped expand student discussions. Special Education teachers found Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS) very helpful to explore new content. 

In VTS discussions, teachers support student growth by facilitating discussions of carefully selected works of visual art/photographs or media literacy. Teachers are asked to use three open-ended questions to engage student discussion.

  • What’s going on in this picture?

  • What do you see that makes you say that?

  • What more can we find?

Teachers use facilitation techniques to expand student responses. By pointing at the areas being discussed and paraphrasing student comments, teachers helped link and frame student answers. For those teachers being observed using an evidence-based tool, the following evidence can be seen when using Visual Thinking Strategies.

Questioning/Discussion Technique

  • Students are engaged in exploring new content through effective questioning.
  • Engages all students in discussion.
  • Allowing “Think Time” before responding.
  • Topics can be expanded through follow up, rephrasing and applying student responses.

Engages Students in Learning

  • Examples are used to illustrate new learning.
  • New learning connects student knowledge, interests and culture.
  • Problem solving is highlighted as a technique in student learning.
  • Examples are differentiated to meet student needs.

VTS As An Assessment Tool

  • Teachers and peers comment on student responses.
  • Uses Non-verbal cues (nods, quizzical looks etc.) to encourage students.
  • Effective feedback is specific and descriptive.
  • Teacher comments help clarify student responses.
  • Feedback is immediate to support student learning.

Visual Thinking Strategies helps students to truly understand and transfer learning.  It helps them explain, interpret and apply new learning.   

Isn’t education ALL about reaching the kids?

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Transitions Are Important For Kids

Transitions Are Important For Kids
Transitions Are Important For Kids

I’ve reached an age that I realize I definitly need transition time to make a change.  Perhaps I have always needed transitions but I only NOW realize that I need them. Maybe, it’s because I see some upcoming life changes. Whatever the reason, transitions seem to make my life easier lately.  As a parent and teacher I know the importance of transitions to make life run smoothly. More than once I experienced my lack of planning causing disruptions.  Those tantrums and unhappy faces could very well have been avoided with some good transition strategies.

Strategies to promoted self-regulation are necessary for a calm home and classroom.  So, recently I dug into my toolkit of strategies to ward off grandchild disappointment and keep everyone smiling.  

Transitions Made Easy

  • Give Extra Time– Allow extra time to move to the next activity. Less rushing helps keep you remember the importance of transition.
  • Set the Clock – Give time warnings of how much longer until we have to leave. I’ve found that using the timer on my phone is a great visual for kids. Seeing the countdown helps them have ownership to plan their final activities. Also, allowing kids to start the timer ensures that they are indeed listening to you. Be sure to include a few extra minutes of buffer time.
  • Be An Accurate Timekeeper – Telling them 2 minutes more but giving them 10 minutes more, because they were quiet,  teaches kids that 2 minutes is REALLY long.  That is until the next time when you REALLY mean 2 minutes.  IF you are ok with an extended time, try giving them a “few minutes more”.  Only give them a specific time when YOU are ready.  This simple tip will help them learn to self regulate their activities. 
  • Look Ahead – Think of possible transition bumps to minimize  unplanned “great ideas”. IF you think they are going to ask for more time to play or a particular toy, prepare an answer before they ask. 
  • Share Next Steps – Share the next steps in your schedule and try to make it sound fun. 
  • Say It With Pictures – Especially for younger kids, show them a picture of the next steps. Draw your simple pictures on post its.  Kids will love to play with them and they can be reused in the future.
  • Give Choices – IF you have multiple things to do and the order can be varied, give them a choice of what they want to do first.  Best to keep their choices simple, maybe 2 or 3 choices.
  • Kids LIKE Schedules – They may say they don’t, but they do!  Let them know in advance any planned activities to help them become more aware.
  • Distract, Distract, Distract – Plan a list of things to do to distract BEFORE your child has an issue (e.g. a favorite toy, box of crayons). Sing, count, tell stories, whatever will keep their mind busy. You may also allow them to hold a special item.  As a K-2 principal, I often allowed new kindergarten students to hold my “very special book” or “wear my Principal necklace”.  Prior to the book or necklace idea, I had once used my keys to distract a nervous 5 year old. Two hours later, the kindergarten teacher was finally able to distract the child long enough to  unclench his fingers from around my keys.  It worked, but certainly, not my best idea.  A little planning would have been helpful!

Not 100% guaranteed ideas but certainly worth a try. 

Good Luck!

Isn't education ALL about reaching the kids?
Isn’t education ALL about reaching the kids?

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Pets in the Classroom Grant Program

Application for Pets in the Classroom grant are now available for teachers
Application for Pets in the Classroom grant are now available for teachers

Pets in the Classroom is an educational grant program that provides financial support to teachers to purchase and maintain small animals in the classroom. The program was established by the Pet Care Trust to provide children with an opportunity to interact with pets—an experience that can help to shape their lives for years to come. Applications are now being accepted for the 2019-2020 school year. 

You may only submit ONE application per school year! However, if you have received a STORE or REBATE GRANT in ANY previous school year, you are now ONLY eligible for the sustaining grant. You can only receive ONE STORE or REBATE per lifetime, NOT one per year

Apply Here:

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  • New: Target Field Trip Grants
  • Field Trip Grants: Hudson Valley

Field Trip Grants: Hudson Valley

Community Foundations of the Hudson Valley

Field Trip Grans available for schools in the Hudson Valley
Field Trip Grans available for schools in the Hudson Valley

Any educator in a public school or school district in Dutchess County and Ulster County, New York – kindergarten to grade 12 are eligible to apply for field trip grants.

MAXIMUM GRANT AMOUNT: The maximum grant award is $2,000 per field trip. There is not a limit of requests that can be made per school. However, schools will be generally be limited to no more than two field trip grants each, as the competitive application process warrants. Funding priority will be given to high needs schools/ districts. 

APPLICATION PROCESS: Online grant application.  Go to to access grant guidelines information and application. Click here to access the Grants Portal.

Questions: Contact –

Field Trip Grants Eligibility

  • Field trips must be for trips outside of the school and must be tied to educational curricula.
  • Teachers should seek funding from their school or district first. If that source is depleted or not available for a field trip, the teacher/school may request money from this fund.
  • Field trips should occur during the regular academic year and generally during school hours.
  • Summer programs, clubs and after-school programs are not eligible.
  • Funds may cover transportation and/or admissions. It can also be used to help defray the costs of students who do not have the ability to pay for their portion in cases where students/families are expected to pay all or a portion of the cost.
  • The proposed field trip should be reasonable and appropriate.
  • Field trips that serve an entire grade level will be considered.

Field Trip Deadlines

  • Early Bird Deadline: August 15th For trips or dates or needing a decision prior to October 15th (notifications to go out mid-September)
  • Fall/Winter Deadline: September 15th This is for trips with anticipated dates between October 15th – January 30th  (notifications to go out in early October)
  • Winter/Spring Deadline: December 31st  This is for trips with anticipated dates between February 1st – June 30th  (notifications to go out in late January)

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  • New: Target Field Trip Grants

New: Target Field Trip Grants

Applications for Target Field Trip Grants start August 1st.
Applications for Target Field Trip Grants start August 1st.

Target Field Trip Grants are now available to K-12 schools nationwide. Each grant is valued at $700. Applications accepted between noon Aug. 1st and 11:59 p.m. Oct. 1st.

Who is eligible for a grant: Education professionals who are at least 18 years old and employed by an accredited K-12 public, private or charter school in the United States that maintains a 501(c)(3) or 509(a)(1) tax-exempt status are eligible to apply.  Educators, teachers, principals, paraprofessionals or classified staff of these institutions must be willing to plan and execute a field trip that will provide a demonstrable learning experience for students.

Target Field Trip Grants Selection:

  • Applicant’s description of the field trip and its objectives
  • Benefits to the students, including overall student learning experience, relevance to curriculum and number of students who may benefit from the grant
  • Trip to be taken between January 1, 2020 and the end of the 2019-20 academic year (May/June 2020)

Application deadline: Applications must be submitted online via this website to Scholarship America between August 1, 2019 and October 1, 2019 at 11:59 p.m. Apply at: 

Recipient notification/claiming grants: All applicants will be notified by e-mail by December 15, 2019. Grant checks are made payable to recipient’s school.


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  • Field Trip Grants: Hudson Valley

Masterpieces for Kids: August 2019

St. Peter’s Basilica
Rome, Italy

This is the 4th part of a yearlong series of great artworks to share with your kids.  Each month I share information about 3 great masterpieces to share with your children.  My goal of these posts is to create a parent-friendly resource to share great masterpieces with your child. I’ve decided on this monthly series because I totally missed sharing the beauty of art with my own children. Better late than never, I guess.

Each post contains a photo of the artwork, the artist’s name, an interesting fact about the artwork and a link to explore more information.  So far, I have shared the following:  Mona Lisa (Leonardo da Vinci), The Starry Night (Vincent Van Gogh), Oriental Poppies (Georgia O’Keeffe), The Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci, Four Freedoms by Norman Rockwell, American Gothic by Grant Wood, Water Lilies by Claude Monet, Irises by Vincent van Gogh and The Skiff by Pierre-Auguste Renoir.

My grandchildren’s love of playdough inpired by choice of sculptors this month.  You never know, maybe one day they’ll become great sculptors. 

The Statue of Liberty (1886)

In 1886, The Statue of Liberty was given to the United States by France to celebrate the friendship of the two countries that began during the American Revolution.  The copper statue depicts the Roman goddess Libertas holding a torch above her head with her right hand and in her left hand she is carrying a table on which is inscribed the date of the U.S. Declaration of Independence.  The Statue of Liberty has become an American symbol of freedom and democracy. It has been put on both coins and stamps.   

It was designed by French sculptor Frederic Auguste Bartholdi and built by Gustave Eiffel (Eiffel Tower). The Statue of Liberty is one of the most famous sculpture in the world. It is in New York Harbor on Ellis Island.

Mount Rushmore is a monument that was carved into the Black Hills of South Dakota. It was started in 1927 and was completed in 1941.  Mount Rushmore stands 500 feet tall!  The faces of four presidents are carved into the mountain: Washington, Theodore Roosevelt, Jefferson, and Lincoln. 

The statue Pieta depicts the Virgin Mary holding the body of her dead son Jesus Christ.  It is considered one of the great masterpieces of sculpture.  The artist, Michelangelo was only 24 years old when he sculpted the piece Pieta. The piece is sculpted from a piece of marble.  Pieta is the only sculpture Michelangelo ever signed.  His signature can be seen across Mary’s chest.  Today, the Pieta is in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.

Right now, my favorite sculptors are under the age of 8 making “playdough masterpieces”. 

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IEP Vocabulary Basics

Special Education  vocabulary will help understand the process.
Special Education vocabulary will help understand the process.

The world of special education can by scary for parents navigating the process for the first time.  The following list contains special education terms, definitions and acronyms that are commonly used by schools during the IEP process .

  • Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE): Special education and related series are provided free of charge so that every child has the appropriate education for his or her unique needs.  It’s entitled under IDEA.
  • Due Process: Refers to the process where parents may disagree with the program recommendations.  Notice must be given in writing within 30 days.
  • Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA): The law (2004) guarantees that all students with disabilities received a Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE).  It makes it illegal for school district to refuse to educate a student based on his or her disability.
  • Parent Consent: Term used by IDEA that describes that a parent has been fully informed (in native language) of changes to their child’s IEP. This informed consent must be obtained before a district assesses, makes a major revision to a child’s program, continues or stops services for a child’s disability.  You will be asked to confirm that you understand and agree to the change in writing.
  • Early Intervention (EI): Services for developmentally delayed children from birth to their third birthdays. The programs are designed to help prevent problems as the child matures. It’s mandated by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
  • Least Restrictive Environment (LRE): Students must be educated in a classroom setting that is close to the general education setting as possible (IDEA mandated).

The IEP Process

  • Assessment or Evaluation: Term used to describe the testing and diagnostic processes that identifies strengths, weaknesses and progress.  An assessment plan is written to describe the results along with the determination and types of special education services recommended for student success.  IDEA gives only 60 days to complete the evaluation from the time a parent gives permission.
  • Annual Review: A yearly meeting is held of all IEP team members to review progress towards goals and update services if needed.
  • Individualized Education Team:  A committee of parents, teachers, administrators and school personnel that provide services to the students.  The team will review assessment results and determine goals, objectives and program placement.

The IEP Document

  • Individualized Education Plan (IEP): The written document that states the child’s goals, objectives and services of special education services.
  • Developmental and Social History: A developmental and social history is a common element of an assessment plan. The history is created by input from parents, teachers, pediatricians and service providers.  
  • Observational Records: Information about a child’s academic performance provided by anyone who works with a child. The records are part of the assessment plan.
  • Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP): A written plan of the early intervention services a child (age 0-3 receives). The plan is developed based on family-based needs and reviewed periodically.
  • Triennial Review:  An IEP meeting that takes place every three years. Testing is updated and a discussion on the continuation of special education services.  The meeting is often combined with the annual review.
  • Observational Records: Information about a child’s academic performance provided by anyone who works with a child. The records are part of the assessment plan.
  • Assessments or Evaluations:  Tests designed to provide an overview of a child’s academic performance, basic cognitive functioning, and current strengths and weaknesses. May also contain hearing and vision test results.
  • Present Levels: Part of the IEP that defines a student’s strengths and weaknesses, current levels of academic achievement and current levels of academic functional performance.
  • Student Baseline: A starting point of student’s ability level that is used throughout the year to measure a student’s skills. 
  • Performance-Based Tests: An evaluation test that is used to determine eligibility for special education services.  Common evaluations can include Woodcock Johnson or the Wechsler Individual Achievement Test (WIAT).


  • Occupational Therapists: A professional that provides consultation and support to staff to improve a student’s educational performance in the areas of fine motor, gross motor and sensory integration development.
  • Speech-Language Pathologist (specialist): A professional who assesses possible delayed speech and language skills and provides direct services.
  • Physical Therapist: A professional who provides consultation and support staff on a student’s education performance related to gross motor development.  May provide direct services. 
  • School Psychologist: Provides consultation and support to families and staff.  Often involved in the student assessments.  May also be the chairperson of the IEP committee.

Great Special Ed Links

Isn’t education ALL about reaching the kids?

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  • IEP Questions and Answers

IEP Questions and Answers

Understanding the IEP in the Special Education Process
Understanding the IEP in the Special Education Process

When parents learn that their child has been found eligible for special education services, it’s only natural that they have many questions. The world of special education can be overwhelming for parents.  The IEP process, new vocabulary, timelines, rules and meetings are ALL unfamiliar and can make a parent feel useless in the process.  However, parents are a very important part of the process because YOU know your child the best.

Two areas to learn about in the special education process is vocabulary and the Individualized Education Plan (IEP).  In this post we will review the IEP and in the next post we’ll review special education vocabulary.   

  • What happens if my child is NOT eligible for services? If the group decides that your child is not eligible for special education services, you should receive this in writing along with an explanation of why your child has been found “not eligible”. You will also be given information on steps to take if you are not in agreement with the decision.
  • What do I do if my child is not eligible for special education services but still needs additional support? K-12 schools are required to provide additional supports to regular education students through a process called Response to Intervention.  See your child’s teacher and/or principal about services that may be offered to support your child’s success.
  • What is the next step if my child is eligible for special education? The next step is to write what is known as an Individualized Education Plan (IEP).  After a child is found eligible, a meeting must be held within 30 days to develop the IEP.
  • What is an Individualized Education Plan (IEP)? An IEP is a written statement of the education program designed to meet a child’s needs.  It has two purposes: To state the services that the school district will provide for your child and to set reasonable goals for your child,
  • How do I prepare for the IEP meeting? Start by making a list of your child’s strength and weaknesses.  If your child is already receiving services, reach out and ask the specialists for their input.  Find out what services they think are necessary.  Keep a notebook jot down notes of things you would like to say at the meeting.  This notebook can be used for the notes you take at all your meetings.  
  • What happens during an IEP meeting? You will be part of a group of professionals that will discuss your child’s strengths and weaknesses prepared to work with a group of people to develop the IEP.  Your child’s evaluation results will be discussed (if this is an evaluation year).  Strengths and weaknesses will be noted, and team members will make suggestions for program placement, goals and services needed. Don’t be shy about speaking up, even though there may be a lot of other people at the meeting. Share what you know about your child and what you wish others to know. (Good time to use your notebook). After everyone has shared their thoughts and concerns, the team will decide on the type of special education series your child needs.  This will include the type of setting, goals and randy related services that your child will need.
  • Will my child be re-evaluated? Yes. Under the IDEA, your child must be re-evaluated at least every three years. The purpose of this re-evaluation is to find out if your child continues to be a “child with a disability,” as defined within the law, along with your child’s educational needs. Although the law requires that children with disabilities be re-evaluated at least every three years, your child may be re-evaluated more often if you or your child’s teacher(s) request it.
  • Will I receive a copy of my child’s evaluation report and a determination about your child’s eligibility? Yes, you will get a copy of your child’s evaluation report prior to the CSE meeting.  You will also get a copy of the IEP after your CSE meeting either the day of the meeting or by mail.

Remember, as your child’s parent, YOU are an equal member of the process.  More importantly YOU have the final say in your child’s IEP.  Catch your breath, take notes and ask questions. You’ve got this! Next post is Special Education Vocabulary.

Every Kid in a Park Program

Free admission to State Parks for every 4th grade student throughout the nation.
Free admission to State Parks for every 4th grade student throughout the nation

Every 4th grader in our nation is eligible for the “Every Kid in a Park” program.  This program that allows fourth graders, along with their family and friends, FREE ADMISSION to our nation’s parks during their 4th grade school year (Sept. 1 to Aug. 31). Visitors can learn about their heritage and connect with nature.  No matter where you live in the United States, there’s a site within two hours of your home.

Parents or educators can download a paper pass for each of their 4th graders for the yearlong pass.  The pass is free but must be brought with each fourth grader on their trip.  At some sites, the ranger will exchange the paper pass for a plastic pass.  The plastic pass is waterproof and makes a great souvenir.

School Field Trips

Fourth grade teachers can also download a paper pass for each of their students for a school field trip.  A field trip with your class offers a unique learning opportunity.  Many of the Kid in the Park locations even offer special programs for fourth graders.  The “Every Kid in a Park” website also provides resources for field trips to discover wildlife, resources and history.

“Every Kid in a Park” Links

  • Every Kid in a Park Program brochure – Here’s the link (PDF file, 4.8 MB) to download and print a PDF version
  • Every Kid in a Park resources – a set of resources (ZIP file, 15.4 MB)
  • Activity Guide 1: Exploring Federal Lands and Waters (PDF). This lesson teaches students why our country protects lands and waters.
  • Activity Guide  2: Environmental Stewardship (PDF). This lesson shows students how to take care of lands and waters.
  • Activity Guide 3: Our Nation’s Native Peoples (PDF). This lesson teaches students about the people who lived on this land before it was called the United States.
  • Activity Guide 4: Citizen Science (PDF). This lesson helps kids learn about the difference between weather and climate.

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  • Social Studies: Resources for Teaching

Gifted Learner Resources

There are MANY resources available to support gifted learners.
There are MANY resources available to support gifted learners.

One thing I quickly realized when I started teaching gifted learners was that I had to design lessons that were interesting and suitable for fast learners. I also needed great sites to find appropriate activities. 

Teachers and parents often look for resources available to meet the gifted learners in their lives. Personally, I’ve searched for information as a teacher of Talented and Gifted (TAG) students, a principal and now, as a GG. Whatever the reason, there are MANY resources available to give you information and activities for your gifted learner.  The websites below will help you meet the needs of your special learners at home and school.

Top 7 Resources for Gifted Learners

  •  I’ve used this site and have shared the link with many parents.  Contains an extensive list of resources for teachers, parents and students.  It also is a great resource if you are looking for a gifted and talented community for support.  One stop shopping.
  • National Association of Gifted Children: Take a close look at the Information and Publications tab for resources for administrators, parents and educators.  Be sure to use the Search Link to find your topic.
  • Smithsonian Education – One of my favorite sites to explore because it expands a general topic to meet the needs of gifted students. 
  • Mensa for Kids – The Mensa Foundation recognizes and encourages education, gifted youth and lifelong learning. Be sure to check out the Mensa for Kids’ Excellence in reading that encourages the joy of reading.  Lesson plans are available along with fun and challenging games for kids.
  • Davidson Institute for Talent Development:  Provides a FREE online community for elementary and secondary educators committed to meeting the unique needs of highly gifted students. In the section called Educator’s Guild and you’ll find lesson plans, techniques and other related topics. 
  • Bright Hub EducationSite is geared towards gifted teachers, but it’s a great resource for regular classroom teachers with gifted students. Provides tips and lesson plans for gifted students from Preschool through Grade 12.
  • Know It AllFun, Fun, Fun:  Great website to keep kids learning and having fun. Site has many lesson plans, student activities and supplemental materials.  Be sure to check out Resources.  A new link (September 2019) will be added with activities for South Carolina (SC) standards. Not to worry, if you’re not from SC. State standards are very similar. words and numbering are different).
Education is about meeting the needs of all students.
Education is about meeting the needs of all students.

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