Monday, January 8, 2018

How I Setup my Autism Classroom Schedule!

Schedules are vital to running a lot of things in our lives so it is easy to say that we all become used to them. When you are working with students and furthermore, students with disabilities you will find that it is very true that they need structure, routine, and consistency. The best way to do this is to have a schedule for the students and staff at all times.

Whenever I tell anyone that schedules that go over what to do and when to do it each and every day is a must I get this look like how are we going to fill it and that is what I wanted to talk about today. I get questions about how about students that have very few skills or that can only work for a few minutes at a time?

I still say that those students, and sometimes especially those students need the schedule the most!

When it came to setting up my classroom schedule I opened an Office Excel sheet and filled in the time that the students get there in the morning and the time they leave and every 15 minute increment in between. Then I looked at what times of the days were non-negotiable. This means things like lunch, recess (if you have it), special classes (art, gym, etc.). Those things are always the same so I took an Office Excel sheet and filled those in.

Then from there I make a list and for each person that reads this blog post it is going to be different because a lot of this has to do with numbers. The number of students in the room at any given time, the number of staff members available to work with students and the number of stations that you have in your classroom whether they are instructional or independent ones.

I make a list of what stations I am going to have in my classroom for that school year. This year I have both instructional (run by teachers or paraprofessionals) and independent work stations. I do plan to continue with a series of blog posts after this one to explain more about these different types of stations and what materials I use in each so stay tuned!

Here is the list of stations that are teacher run today:
-Academy- this is run by a paraprofessional.
-Fluency-this is run by a paraprofessional.
-Reading-this is run by the classroom teacher.
-Math-this is run by the classroom teacher.

Here is the list of stations that are independent work stations:
-Life Skills
-Binderwork
-Work Tasks
-Reflex Math

Once the list is made I determine what students are going to do what stations and I fill in their schedules. One of the hardest things is to make sure that no two students are at the same place at the same time and that they have hit every station that they need to during the day. This is the HARDEST PART and usually the most time consuming. I spend a lot of time with my eyes crossed from staring at the screen but, it is most certainly worth it. The finished product at that point looks a lot like this:


Then once the student schedule is done it is basically easy to do the staff one because whatever the students have determines what the staff are doing other then their lunches and breaks. This would change for you based on what the staff in your class get for both breaks and lunches but, their schedule looks like this when it is done:



Then the most important thing I do and suggest that you do is make a copy of each individual  schedule for each student AND each staff member. I do this so there is no questions about where anyone should be or what they should be doing. If I feel it is necessary I have even put more detail on the staff schedules.

I make sure that I have a wall or board in my room where my schedules are posted for the students and I keep the staff schedules at my desk and then they each have a copy for their para binders and their work areas. This has really helped keep everyone on task and knowing what everyone is expected to be doing!

Lastly, I'm just going to share a few other pictures of my students schedules. Take a look!




Monday, December 18, 2017

SPED Blog Posts to Read RIGHT NOW to Survive to Winter Break!

I know some of you may be already on break... LUCKY YOU! I'm still in the heat of the craziness that is students that are soooo ready for all the fun of Holidays and over the regular day to day in the classroom. So like you, I am trying to rack my brain to come up with things we can do that are fun, educational, and better then the same old things we do every day! Here are a roundup of blog posts that I have found from other great SPED bloggers of things they have done in their classrooms!



You know I love a good set of work tasks in my classroom and if you don't know about that obsession of mine you could read the series of blog posts about that here.  Then if you did read enough check out these two links below of holiday themed tasks that fun and engaging!

 Holiday Themed Work Boxes from Fun in ECSE

Holiday work tasks are my favorite in my Autism Classroom. These are perfect for structured work time or any time when you're working on task boxes!
Holiday Task Boxes from You aut- aKnow


I am not a super crafty person. I don't really have the time to prep and prepare lots of crafts in my classroom but, to my defense I work with older students in middle school so when we do crafts I save it for this time of the year! These two posts are great for incorporating not only crafts but fine motor and academic skills! 
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Fine Motor Christmas Tree Crafts   from Simply Special  Ed. 







Oh yes, I couldn't forget about the Target dollar spot erasers. I have them too. I just didn't think to write a whole blog post on it! Thank goodness I found this blog post on how someone else does it! Find out how to get the most out of all those cute snowmen, snowflakes, and peppermint candy erasers with this post. 
Using Christmas Erasers in Your Classroom from A Special Kind of Class



Hopefully I was able to help you find some great ideas from some fellow bloggers on ways to get you through those last few days of break! I know that these ideas will be up my sleeves for sure! As always thanks for stopping by and I'll be sharing more with you soon! 

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Top 10 Pinterest SPED Accounts I Follow!

Hey there! We all probably have a love and hate relationship with Pinterest. I mean, I LOVE all the ideas but, there are definitely times where is it SUPER overwhelming to look at the pictures of classrooms, products, and everything teacher related that you want to do!

I spent some time looking at the top 10 Pinterest SPED accounts that help me stay motivated. These are just my personal favorites for ideas, products, and teaching tidbits. There is no specific order in this list just great content! Make sure you are following them all!!

1. The Autism Helper


2.Mrs. D's Corner


3. Teaching Special Thinkers


4. Autism Classroom Resources


5. Mrs. P's Specialties


6 .Adapt for Autism


7. Breezy Special Ed.


8. YouAUTaknow


9. Autism Adventures


10. Teach Love Autism


I do really feel like that there is something to be said that is great about each of these accounts. If you don't follow them you totally should and hopefully I've sparked some new ideas for you as you are trying to make it through the next couple weeks before your holiday break time!

Monday, October 30, 2017

Providing Controlled Choices in the Classroom

I always knew that I'd be a strict teacher. That I'd make sure that my students followed directions, did their work, and were respectful to everyone around them. It was something I was taught by my parents and it was something that was ingrained in me as I went through my classes as an undergraduate student observing in classrooms until I got to my student teaching. It was then that I truly learned that if you did not have the command of the classroom those students were going to show you who was in charge. 

So in the time that I have taught (over 10 years now) I have learned a lot about behavior in the classroom. I am in no way an expert and I do not have my BCBA (I thought about it and went for my principal certificate instead) but I have friends that are BCBAs and worked with some in my classroom and learned a lot about things that can and won't work in the classroom settings. 


There are a lot of things I have seen and the plan is not to go over all those things but to more or less give you a tip that has helped not only myself but the staff in my classroom when you get into a scenario with a student that is just straight up non-compliant. It is called giving "Controlled Choices"  and it is something that took me some time to understand but, once I understood it has really helped me in my classroom realize that there are times where students just want to feel like they are in control, especially when they are anxious about something and if we can provide them with choices that they feel in control of the situation can get a lot better. 

The definition of a controlled choice is this:

"Choices can be offered in countless settings, including meals, chores, centers, routines, and play. Types of choices may include choosing materials during an activity, choosing what activity will come next, and choosing a friend to sit with at lunch. The intervention consists of offering choices among two or more types of materials or activities."

 "Although several explanations for the effectiveness of this strategy have been suggested, evidence suggests that choice making is effective because it allows the child to feel that he or she has some control or power over the environment. This control, in turn, motivates the child to participate and remain engaged longer."




So for example if you have a student, Jesse that is just refusing to do work and you have tried talking to them about completing the work but they are just still telling you no. A way to use this strategy is by asking the student if they would rather complete the work in pencil or pen (if you know that they like to write in something different). This way the work is going to get done just with a different type of utensil. 

I have found that this strategy does work well for students that want that ability to feel that they have a voice and that they can do things they want from time to time and it's not only about what you want them to do. This strategy is also an easy one to teach the paraprofessionals in your classroom because you can provide them with examples of things that might work best for the student. Then they can avoid being in those power struggle situations with students and avoid those unwanted high stress meltdown type scenarios. 

In some situations in my classroom I find that using visuals to give those choices in the high stress scenarios is the best. Here is an example of the break choices I provide in my classroom for students so that when they want to take a break in the classroom they have a choice. 
If you'd like to grab the freebie of this in my TPT store go here!

I know that even though I don't want to empty my dishwasher if I was given the choice to either have someone help me or listen to music while I did it I'd be a lot more willing to empty it. Sometimes providing our students the opportunity to be responsible and make their own choices it makes them feel empowered and more willing to work. 


Monday, October 23, 2017

Visuals Schedules in the Classroom


                  Visuals are key to any special education classroom. Google it and you are going to find TONS! Sometimes though, especially if you are just beginning your journey as a special education teacher you are going to get overwhelmed! 


What visuals DO you need?

Where DO you start?

How DO you know if you've picked the right one??

All these questions were questions I struggled with my first few years of teaching. I'd like to help you answer those questions and share some of my go-to visuals that have worked in my classroom over the years.

First, let's start with WHAT visual are: (via. www.northstarpaths.com)

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No really, visuals are a way for students to understand what we are asking them. In a way you have to think of students with autism and sometimes students with other disabilities like a funnel that has only room for a small amount of information at one time. When you are talking, talking, talking to them only a bit of that is going in. So using visuals makes it easier for that student to process information. I like to share this visual with my paraprofessionals when I explain this to them. 
I also think that we need to think about why visuals are the best choices for our students this is another graphic that I feel like explains things so much better then if I wrote paragraph after paragraph about it. If you think about it visuals help everyone and they are not just for individuals with disabilities. Think about all the places around you that have visuals and how you use them to do things everyday. You use stop signs, traffic lights, exit signs, restaurant logos, and MORE! 


What visuals do you need?? Well I'd start with basics! SCHEDULES!


This is my central schedule stations. If you take a close look at this picture there are different kinds of visuals and schedules. I have your typical class period schedule. I have picture schedules (which if you keep reading you'll get a closer look) and on those empty clipboard you are going to also see my table like schedules go on there for my students that are getting better at reading and don't need the visuals as much!  

This is my visual flip schedule it is super awesome for students that have fine motor difficulties or for those schedules that you are ALWAYS losing the pieces. The students just push the flap closed when they are finished.  Everything is connected. You can check them out here! 

I also have schedules for students that look more like a typical schedule. Here is a picture of one. Where the time, event, and place for the student to take a dry-erase marker and check it off when it is finished. I've also in the past, incorporated visuals if I felt the student needed it. This I just created in a word document as a table. 


 Lastly, this schedule is for students during work tasks. They use the numbers and follow the order of the schedule to complete their work. I have even used visuals to show the student that they can earn breaks. It helps the students know when something is coming and that there is a reinforcer coming for all the work they are doing. We all want to know when our paycheck is coming right???
Here are some other types of visuals I have in my room and feel like I couldn't live without! 

Morning Meeting Visuals! 

Rules Visuals!!! (under the clock)

Sensory Room Visuals (yoga poses to do in a body sock)

Work Task Visuals
This helps students complete the task easier by having a visual representation. 


Just know, if you don't know how to teach a student to do something or explain it to them revert to a visual!! It can always be the way to communicate with our students things that we want them to do or understand. It also can ease their anxiety to know that there is a schedule, a plan, and an end result to something if you provide them with a schedule. 


Thursday, September 28, 2017

Helping Paraprofessionals THRIVE in Inclusion


Over the few years I have worked in special education I have seen the rise in our field to push students out into inclusion classes. This post is not meant to cause a debate about whether inclusion is good or bad. If you want my opinion, I feel that with the proper support ANY student could be included in any class. This being said "proper" support isn't always provided and sometimes isn't provided at all.
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With all that being said, when students (especially ones with severe disabilities) are in inclusion classes of any kind there is a definite need for assistance. In many cases, at least in the district I work in, that comes from paraprofessionals. I have some of the best paraprofessionals around and at times they still struggle with how to make inclusion work for the students in my class. I used to think that it should come easy or naturally to them, and it didn't. So I had to come up with ideas that would help them.

I first looked at the classes that my students were included in, and for my students that was gym, health, art, music, and technology. Although I have also had students included in core subject classes as well. I decided to take the time to meet with the teachers of those classes and try to get an overview of what was expected by the regular education students whether it was to play basketball, build a sculpture, or type a paper. This then helped me to differentiate and come up with a plan for what my students could do, knowing their abilities that could qualify them for participation and grades. So here are examples of how I worked the skills I mentioned earlier and differentiated them so my students could receive credit in the class:

Play basketball: dribble the ball, pass to a para, roll the ball, catch a bounce pass, touch the basketball when presented with a basketball and a volleyball, put the basket ball in a hoopla hoop.

Build a sculpture: roll the clay, flatten the clay, make letters or shapes with clay, touch clay when presented with another art item for identification, make 3D shapes.

Type a paper: type your name, type sight words, type a letter after being told, identify technology items on picture cards, manipulate a mouse, turn on computer, play typing games.

As you can see there are many ways to adapt but your paraprofessionals might not be able to do it as quickly or on the fly like you can. There have been days where I struggle to do it. So knowing what is going on in the class and helping them by giving ideas is important.
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Another thing you can do is go to the class for a short time period and model for your paraprofessionals and show them what you expect from them out in inclusion. Sometimes seeing things in action is the best way to learn them.

Lastly, providing both the paraprofessionals and the regular education teachers a list of general skills that each student can do is very helpful. It could be as simple as this:

Ashley's Skill Set
Matching
Counting up to 10
Sorting
Answering Questions

Jacob's Skill Set
Identifying Objects
Answering Yes/No Questions
Labeling items
Addition and Subtraction
Writing Simple Sentences

This simple list can help those in the room with those students the ability to make the class more meaningful and functional for the student.

And now a FREEBIE! Click here for a chart you can fill in to list the skills your students can do.
Inclusion Student Skill Set Form

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Rockin' the First Two Weeks of School





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It's very close, if it hasn't bitten you yet, it is coming for you... the first day of school. I go back in about a week and then students come the following week after.

It is going to be my 10th year of teaching and my 5th teaching special education. I am very excited and feel confident in what I am doing. To be honest, I am not stressed about delivering curriculum or figuring out schedules because I know the first week or so of school it's not about that.

I know you think I'm crazy, no schedules, no curriculum?? Well, not exactly. The curriculum is not one that you are going to find created by Houghton Mifflin. It is a curriculum that you have to come up with on your own. You have to ask yourself some valuable questions. I had to do this every year that I went into a new position and since I am going into my 5th year in the same position I know the answers to those questions and know I can rock the beginning of the school year. Let's see where you stand with these questions...
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1.  Do you know the rules and policies of the school? 

If you have worked in the same school for a while these should come easily to mind, but if you are a first year teacher this information is crucial to knowing how you are going to run your classroom. What if the school already has rules that the whole school uses and you are the odd ball out that made up your own? Does your school use passes to go to different places in the school like the office, nurse, or principal? Is there a behavior system in place that you have to follow or speak to your principal about if your students need a modified plan?


2. Do you know the important individuals in your school and/or district?
Again, if you have taught at your school for a few years you know this but, maybe you have a new secretary or administrator? Here's the thing there are just essential people that work in your building that I was taught in my very first class of my college career was that you always know and treat well the secretaries, custodians, guidance counselor, nurses, and administrators. They can be vital to helping you when things move beyond what you can control in your classroom. Make sure you know them, they know you, and you have discussed (even briefly) a few key items in each of the areas they work in, and show them appreciation for it.
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3. What rules are you going to have? What happens when students follow or don't follow them?
Classroom management is so important and when it comes to it I feel like you can never be over prepared on knowing how you are going to handle behaviors in your classroom. Make sure that rules is something that you go over and over and OVER with your class. I do this probably everyday day for the first two weeks of school. We read them, we role play, we read books about them and we watch videos that explain them. You cannot expect your students to understand if you don't teach it to them like you would teach them how to do a math problem. Break them down, discuss the scenarios and discuss the consequences if they aren't followed.


4. What should the classroom look like when students are transitioning, working alone, working with you, working with paras, in the hallway, in lunch, at recess, and other scenarios?
We just discussed behaviors but procedures are just as important. We cannot expect students to follow our rules if they don't know what the procedures for EVERYTHING are. Don't feel stupid even explaining how to raise their hand. They need to know what is expected and they need to hear it from you. Tell them how to walk places, how to work, and where to do it. Think about things that may be specific to your classroom and non-specific that can be respected in the whole school.


5. Do you know where you want things to be located and stored in the classroom? Do your students and staff know?
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This is important. At the end of the day my first few years of teaching I killed myself. Everyday I had to spend at least 30 minutes cleaning up from everything that happened that day. I also then had to prep for the next day and make sure everything was ready to go. That took FOREVER. It was a matter of realizing if I taught my students and staff to put their pencil away when they were done and to put the writing materials in the right bins and the sensory toys back when they were done that it would save me a lot of time at the end of the day. Which left me more time to work on what I needed which was planning my next lesson and not cleaning up from the previous one.


6. How do you want to teach procedures of the classroom? 

This can be very similar to just figuring out your teaching style. Some teachers are very soft spoken because they feel that makes the students have to "listen in" and other teachers are loud and dramatic trying to captivate the students interest. Finding you style and then addressing the procedures of the classroom is important. If you want my opinion the best way to teacher procedures is MODEL, MODEL, MODEL. Then once you have done that practice them OVER and OVER. This could be something you do every day. Just teaching procedures the first day of school is not going to cut it. And don't feel bad about it, I know if seems redundant but it is what our students need.


7. How do you want your staff (if you have it) to work in your room?
If you want to be sure that everyone is on the same page you have to talk with the other adults that are working in your room. I really suggest if you have the time to do it BEFORE school starts and BEFORE the students get into the classroom. I create a paraprofessional binder that I give to my staff. It includes information about our students such as characteristics and their needs but it also has schedules, procedures, and information about how things need to work in the classroom. Just like the students you need to be explicit on how you want things done by your staff. In my experience, the course of the school year is dependent upon how well you prepare your staff. They can literally be a life saver if you work with them well.



8. What areas of the classroom are students going to work in? What areas are break areas? 

Obviously, this all comes with classroom set up but try to think of all the dynamics of the classroom such as the before and after movement of how students will work and get from one place to another. I set up my classroom and then try to think about a day and how every student will transition from my work task area to the life skills station and so forth. I try to think about what things are needed such as trashcans near the area where my students will eat breakfast in the morning.

Also, knowing where the students can calm down is important. I have been lucky enough to have a separate sensory room but, not every classroom has. Just use some physical aspects of your classroom to create a corner and define it, label it well, and share with the students where they can take breaks and where they can work.

9. When is lunch? Recess? Specials? When do they get to go home?

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This is a big one!! This is even big for me. I want to know when my lunch and my planning period is and so do your staff and students. They need to see these on a schedule because for almost every single one of them it is reinforcing and is going to provide nutrition and a much needed break for them. It is a pet peeve of mine when a student asks over and over when is lunch. And I fix that by having student schedules close by, and if need be a giant classroom schedule too. That way there are no questions.


10. Where are the schedules and visuals going to be located??

I am going to piggy back off of the last question and discuss schedules. Where are you going to keep them in the classroom. My suggestion is keeping it so students can manipulate and access it but also in a centrally located place. This also will effect your classroom set up. It will most likely end up be a central hub where students have to go multiple times a day to find out what they need to do next. Schedules seem to provide a sense of security not just for us but for our staff as well so if you don't feel it's necessary that each staff member have their own schedule then at least have a large schedule with everything on it that can be seen from almost anywhere in the classroom.


I hope that these questions are going to help answer some of the major questions that I feel any teacher needs to answer before starting on that first day of school. If you felt confident with these questions then you will definitely be on the right track to the start of the school year! Good luck!! You've got this!


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