Special Education with Care

MVA Special Education Department Update

April 2021

Hello wonderful MVA parents,

Spring is blooming in our local deserts! California’s nickname is traditionally attributed to the rush of 49ers who came panning for treasure. But there are those who insist that the name—the Golden State—has just as much to do with the California poppy, the delicate yellow-orange state flower that carpets the state each spring from Arcata in the north to San Diego in the south. We hope you are able to visit your local area with your students and see these and other magnificent flowers in bloom!

In This Issue

  • Did You Know: Teacher Appreciation Week - May 3rd-7th, 2021;
  • Academic Resources: Words in Context: Effective Strategies for Teaching New Vocabulary;
  • Feature Teachers: Meet your Education Specialists/Case Managers;
  • Behavior Bits: No Cost Rewards;
  • Sensory Corner: 5 Fun Ways To Teach Your Kids Mindfulness;
  • Caught On The Net: Helpful Websites and Apps;
  • Transition Services Corner: Transition Newsletter.


Teacher Appreciation Week - May 3rd-7th, 2021

It’s been a challenging year in education but thanks to the amazing MVA Special Education Teachers our students are making progress, smashing goals, and growing in their education! Our MVA Special Education Teachers are changing lives and ensuring that every student has the tools they require to reach their full academic potential. Please help us recognize these powerful educators during the Teacher Appreciation Week May 3rd-7th, 2021.

Here are some ideas for participation for your student and your family. You can make an academic project out of this activity tied to ELA or Art.

Our teachers would LOVE to hear from you!


Words in Context: Effective Strategies for Teaching New Vocabulary

Learning new vocabulary words is a key skill in developing reading, writing, listening, and speaking skills. However, just hearing or even memorizing a word is often not enough for a student to internalize it and know how to properly use it. The end goal of vocabulary instruction is for students to improve language input and output, meaning that their ability to both comprehend and produce language is enhanced as vocabulary skills are strengthened.

Consider the following approach to vocabulary instruction, practice, and internalization for use with your student.

Step 1: Locate useful and important vocabulary words

Vocabulary words are most useful to students when they recognize them in their reading and can use them in their writing. Therefore, it is important to introduce students to unfamiliar words before they are exposed to them in a text.

To find vocabulary words for students to learn, turn to any of the following sources:

  • Textbooks: use boldfaced words
  • Novels and short stories: read ahead and write down a few of them from the reading assignment that your students are about to complete.
  • Vocabulary workbooks and guides: these have useful lists of important vocabulary words to know

Step 2: Create a set of vocabulary words

To collect vocabulary words, note cards work well.

  1. Choose one or two new vocabulary words each day. More than 2 words can be overwhelming and detract from a student’s ability to recall and use what they have learned.
  2. Using one note card per word, have students write the word on one side, then the definition, part of speech, and a context sentence on the other side. You or your student can add an image or a drawing to your note card as well.

Step 3: Help students learn the words

Once your student has a collection of 10 or so word cards, start using them in review activities to reinforce meaning and use. This reinforcement can take many forms, and it is usually more helpful when it taps into the student’s creativity and/or personal learning style. Try any of the following activities as context vocabulary practice:

  • Creative Writing: Ask students to choose 3-5 of their words (at random or deliberately) and use those words to write a story, letter, descriptive paragraph, etc.
  • Word Drawings: Ask students to choose a word to illustrate. This activity works well with visual learners because they can associate the definition of their words with images that they have created.
  • Synonyms & Antonyms: Ask students to choose a word from their collection (or have them all use the same word). Hand out paper and ask them to write that word on the top of the page, then fold the paper lengthwise. In one column, have the write synonyms for that word, and then ask them to fill the other side with antonyms. This activity can be given a time limit (see how many you can come up within 5 minutes), or used as a reference sheet, depending on the personality and needs of your child.

  • Formal Writing: When students have a composition or summary to write for class, have them choose words from their vocabulary collection to incorporate into that writing assignment.

  • Structured Pull-outs: Pull specific words out of the collection and ask students to tell you what they have in common.

  • Example: Take out the words “original,” and “innovative.” Without looking at the definition and use, what do these 2 words have in common? What is something that they could all describe?

  • Independent Pull-Outs: Give your student a category and ask to choose 3 words from his/her collections that could fit into that category.

  • Example: Find 3 words that could describe a happy moment. Which words did you choose? How/why do they fit this category?

  • Word Chains: Take a vocabulary word that you can manipulate and ask students to make a chain out of it, changing part of speech, prefixes, suffixes, etc.

  • Example: original word = important; make it an adverb = importantly ; make it a noun = importance ; opposite of “important” = unimportant

  • Games: Make and play go-fish, memory, etc., to match words to definitions, match words with similar meanings, etc. Having students make their own vocabulary games can be an excellent reinforcement of new words, as well.

  • Picture Writing: Show your students a photo or piece of artwork to describe using a certain number of vocabulary words, or give them specific words to use in their descriptions.

    Describe the photo below using the words “ecstatic,” “frolic,” and “cautious.”

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Step 4: Ensure individual student mastery

Take a break from adding new words once your student has a solid collection of vocabulary words (15-20 words might work for some students, while others may need to work with fewer words or more words, depending on individual needs and memory capacity). If a student had adequate practice with these words, stop to assess his/her understanding. This assessment can be a written quiz, a one-on-one oral assessment, a writing assignment in which certain words must be used, or a creative project proving vocabulary understanding. Words that students definitely know at this point can be placed aside for less frequent practice, while those that still pose a challenge should be kept in active use as they continue to increase the number of words in their collections.

Big picture
Big picture


My name is Heather McCarthy and I provide specialized academic instruction for students in 2nd through 5th grade. I teach decoding, reading comprehension, and math in a one-to-one setting, both in-person and virtually. No matter the subject being focused on, we always incorporate some sort of game; my students know that I believe learning should be FUN!


No Cost Rewards

This month, we are sharing some ideas of how to use No Cost Rewards to encourage your students within their homeschool environment. The first thing that may come to mind when you hear “reward” is having to spend money to buy your child tangible items or gifts as a reward for good behavior, but “No Cost Rewards” can be just as effective.

No Cost Rewards are based on strengthening relationships, providing fun activities, and increasing privileges. These types of rewards are much more sustainable than tangible rewards. Privileges and activities deliver more what kids are after: adult and peer attention.

When you give positive praise to students, try to remember to link the student’s behavior to your shared values. Shared values can be things like Being Safe, Being Respectful, and Being Responsible. For example:

“Thank you for showing responsibility by coming completing your work on time,” or

“That was very respectful of you to help your sibling with that. I am proud of you and you should be proud of yourself.”

Research shows that parents and teachers should strive for more positive interactions than negative corrections (usually a ratio of 4:1 is recommended). Don't just save it for special occasions. Look to reward students for following expectations, completing school work regularly and on time, helping others, staying focused, and more.

Other Examples of No Cost Rewards:

  • Take a walk or hike together

  • Help a parent make dinner one night

  • Have a special art session together

  • Read a book together as a family

  • 30 minutes of extra TV time

  • Take a trip to the park

  • Choose a game to play

  • 30 minutes of one-on-one time with mom or dad (play a game, do a puzzle, draw, etc.)

  • Choose what we will have for dinner one night this week

  • Stay up 30 (or 15) minutes past your bedtime this weekend

  • No chores for a day


5 Fun Ways To Teach Your Kids Mindfulness

Many kids with learning and attention issues have these struggles every day. Their issues can make homework extra frustrating and harder to get through. Brain breaks during homework or lengthy chores can help relieve that frustration. They can also help kids learn to self-regulate and self-monitor when they’re getting fed up or losing track of what they’re doing. Short brain breaks during work time have been shown to have real benefits. They reduce stress and frustration and increase attention and productivity.

The key is to take them before fatigue, distraction or lack of focus set in. For grade-schoolers, that’s typically after 10 to 15 minutes of work. At that point, they may need a three- to five-minute break. Middle- and high-schoolers can work for longer—up to 20 to 30 minutes before a break.

To make a brain break effective for your child, there are a few things to consider. First, you’ll want to make sure it’s an actual break. Moving from homework to an activity that feels like more work won’t help your child stay focused.

For kids who need quiet and relaxation, a brain break can be as simple as actively sitting still. For kids who need activity, taking a “dance break” is a fun way to refocus and refresh.

Here are some examples of typical physical activities:

  • Stretching breaks that include yoga poses (dog, cat, cow, bug, rock) and animal walks (walk like a bear, hop like a frog, stand like a flamingo, fly like a bird)
  • Wall push-ups
  • Regular push-ups
  • Yoga ball activities
  • Sit-ups
  • Jumping jacks
  • Running in place as fast as possible
  • Cross crawls (touch hand to opposite knee)
  • Rocketship jumps (bending down, touching toes and bouncing while counting down from 10, then blastoff)
  • Snow angels on the floor
  • Chewing on a crunchy snack or
  • Doing tactile activities, like using Silly Putty

Whatever activities you use, it’s important to do some pre-planning with your child. That includes setting ground rules around the purpose of a brain break. You also want to consider how to schedule brain breaks either by intervals of time or by the ratio of behaviors (number of tasks completed).

Knowing how to take a brain break can help kids in ways that go beyond recharging and getting through work. Brain breaks can help reduce anxiety, which is common in kids with learning and attention issues. And being able to return to a task and get it done can build self-confidence and self-esteem. It can also show kids that there are lots of ways to work on challenges and stay motivated.


Helpful Websites and APPs

With so many educational resources available online it is at times challenging to decide which ones to try. In each Newsletter issue, we will highlight several free educational websites or apps that support the core academic subjects as well as behavior and come from reputable organizations. We hope you will find them helpful!