Monday, February 19, 2018

Paraprofessional Instructional Areas

One thing I struggled with my first year of teaching in special education was figuring out what to do with the staff in my room. You know a lot more about what you want to do with your students and they definitely prepare you better in college for that. To be honest, I never had a professor even MENTION what it would be like to work with paraprofessionals in college.

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The one thing I knew I needed was something for those adults to do and of course I needed a schedule. So I created one just like I do for my students and in a lot of ways since I have my stuff work directly with my students at least once a day it looks very similar.

Another thing I took into account was I have over the course of the last five years have had one para that has been with me the whole time and then the other position has changed people four times! This is something that can be very tricky when you have a high turnover rate! I don't think I need to get into those details but, my point here is that you sometimes have to learn the strengths and weaknesses of the people you are working with so you can get the best out of them. We all like to do something we are good at or know that we can accomplish.

 So, I first started with very easy tasks for my staff and at the beginning of the year they have to assist teaching students how to independently complete work task boxes. All this meant was that they had to observe the student and let us know if it was something that they could complete independently and I had them take DATA! Yes, this is something you want to get your staff used to doing right away!
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After that was done it helped me understand some of the skills that my staff had especially if they were new staff. Then I was able to determine some tasks that they could do and here are some ideas of things that I have had staff do as their own run station in the classroom. These have all worked well depending on the person that was running it.

The biggest thing to understand is that you are going to have to train your staff. You cannot just give them a task and say "Go for it!". They cannot read your mind and you can't imagine they will know exactly how you want things done. This doesn't mean that you are bossy either. You need to be confident that you are the person running this classroom and  that you know what is best for your students.

Fluency Station:

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(credit: The Autism Helper)
This station was inspired by The Autism Helper. I cannot take credit for this station but, I have found that every person that has run it in my classroom has been able to do it successfully. It is probably why I have had it in my classroom every year. It allows you to work on soooo many skills but in a discrete trial way and you get tons of DATA!! I take flashcards like the ones above. Some are fancy, some are homemade and I have my para run through them and take data. It really is a great set up! I utilize the IRIS storage cases (4 of them to be exact) and I then assign a color to each student and that is their bins with their materials inside. I also have a binder with tabs where my paraprofessional keeps the data!

Binderwork Station:
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This is not fancy AT ALL! Literally it's binders with worksheets that students can work on and I just create a schedule for what the para pulls from to work on. You can put anything in these from math facts, handwriting, comprehension, and more! I have included Edmark materials, Unique Learning Systems  worksheets and more!

Work Task Practice:

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I always want my students to increase their independence and when it comes to work tasks that is the goal! So I have had times where my students work with a paraprofessional on work tasks that would normally would be too difficult for them to complete on their own. I have them picked out so that the paras can work with the student and try to get them to that independent stage and eventually take that task and add it to their work task time because they can do it on their own. It makes sense that the only way my students will build the skills that they can do independently is if they work on them!

Life Skills/Hygiene Practice:
I have had paraprofessionals work with students on different life skills activities that they need for everyday practice. These things would be folding clothes, hanging clothes, matching socks, vacuuming, wiping down tables, and other tasks that might be more of a vocational type task. I have also had students work on their hygiene skills with a para where they help read social stories and work on things like washing their hands, washing their face, brushing their teeth, combing their hair, and more! These students needed the practice and having something to model for them is just what they needed! 

Writing Station:
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This station was centered all around writing and handwriting depending on the students level. I had my OT work really hard with the staff that ran this station so that they had the basic background information on what we wanted when working with students on their handwriting and this helped tremendously! I had my para work with students on the Handwriting Without Tears materials and also incorporated some fine motor activities for her to do as well. When it came to my students that didn't need the handwriting instruction I would have my para work on them writing words, sentences and beyond. I would have my para work with those students on expanding their sentences, and answering questions in sentences.

With all this said, I could not do what I do in my classroom every single day if it was not for the paraprofessionals in my classroom. They are the backbone that keep things running so that I can do my job. Without them, I wouldn't be able to accomplish what I do with my students. I am so thankful for the work that they put in and I am so thankful that they value educating our students the way that they do!

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Monday, January 29, 2018

Making Staff Meetings Work

When I first starting teaching in a self contained classroom I had to adjust to not just figuring out what I was going to teach and how I was going to teach it but, I had to figure out what the paraprofessionals were going to do and teach as well. It made me think about what I needed them to do on a daily basis. I feel like it's part of the job description that they don't tell you about in college.

This was easy to come up with a plan and I even used a paraprofessional training binder at the beginning of the year but, once the school year got started it got harder and harder to share these plans with my staff. Some of my staff that came in early and came in late, left before the day was over and staying until the end of the day. It was hard to not feel like I was spending my day sharing the changes to a behavior plan, a new data sheet, or helping a paraprofessional understand the way I want the station they work at to run in the moment.

I was spending all my time during the day helping them and not getting done what I needed. The other thing that was happening was as the day would go on we would have new behaviors or scenarios with students come up that my paraprofessionals may not understand how to handle and I'd want to help them and give ideas (control issues much??) I just really want to share my knowledge or get to the root of the problem but, found myself in a dilemma.

Soooo... You want to know how I solved this problem?? I started implementing STAFF MEETINGS!
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Yes, I had to first find a time of the day that everyone was in my classroom. This meant due to the fact that my paraprofessionals come in at different times of the day the mid morning was the best. Then, I tried to consider my student's schedules as well so that they didn't miss too much instruction.

The rest of this blog post is going to have a series of questions that I'm sure you all are thinking about as you are reading this about how I make the staff meetings work in my classroom.

What did my students do while we met?

My students have schedules that they follow everyday and so it was really easy to just make a change to their schedule that kept them busy. The biggest thing about making a change to your students schedule is you should start by making changes that are "better" then the norm. Your class may be different but, for my class it was better to play on an iPad or computer then work with the staff. The reason that this worked well for my students was because I don't let them go for long periods of time on the computer or iPad throughout the day. I save those occasions for things like these staff meetings.

How many times did we have a staff meeting a week?

This varies on the amount of information that I need to share or the amount of behaviors that we all need to be consistent on and discuss a plan of action. I would say I've had up to 3 staff meetings a week if there is something major going on but, I've also had none during a week if things are working well. I'd say on average it would be good to have a meeting every week or at least every other week.

What did we discuss?

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During these meetings we have discussed the obvious things such as behaviors in the classroom, reinforcement, dealing with power struggles, pairing with students, advocating for students in regular education and supporting them in the classroom. I've also done the hard thing of discussing things such as the way we speak to each other as a staff, the idea that we all have to do our job descriptions, being part of a team so that we can do what is best for the students. This is not always an easy type of conversation to have but, I have found that more positive things have come out of my willingness to discuss those hard topics then avoid them.

Where did I find materials to help with ideas?

The first thing I did was have an initial training with all of my staff and utilized some paraprofessional training binders from TPT. I bought a few and pieced together the parts of them that pertained to my classroom. You can also create your own but, these great authors already did the work for me so I figured why not?!? They are listed below:

Paraprofessional Training Manual
Paraprofessional Training Manual

Paraprofessional Binder for the Special Education Classroom
Paraprofessional Binder for Training

Then I used a notebook that I sat on my desk and anytime I saw something in my classroom that I needed to address with my staff or a new behavior I wanted us all the handle in a consistent way I wrote it down. Also, if I just saw something in general that I wanted to talk about I added it to the list. I also would write down if I had new ideas or learned something at a training that I would want to share with my staff.

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There are also some basic topics that I always seem to go back to with my staff just to make sure we are staying on top of it. I have utilized videos in the classroom to show modeling or techniques or procedures and just to give a general information on a topic.

Autism Classroom Resources Free Resources Library - You have to sign up for it and then you get a password which gives you access to free materials and videos that you can use for all kinds of topics.

The Autism Helper- YouTube Channel- This is her free YouTube channel where she gives advice, tips, and tricks that may apply to help your staff understand more about working with our students.

If you have ever thought that staff meetings would work for your classroom but, you were afraid to start them hopefully this will give you the jump start that you may need to get them going!

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
-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! 
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.

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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.