Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Sensory Processing Disorders & Fitting the Needs of Your Students

It is no question that one of my favorite parts to my classroom is my sensory room. It is something that I never dreamed I would have. I was lucky enough to have someone that cared about the sensory needs of my students that when they built my classroom they put a small attached room (even with a door) right inside! This has made meltdowns, calm downs, and just a chill spot possible! Don't think that because you don't have this that you can't have a sensory area too! 

I have shared about my sensory room before in these posts here and here. The thing is that my sensory room and my area outside of the room as changed every single year that I have taught in self contained, secondary, special education. This is because one of the things that I've done is I have made sure that my sensory room area caters to what the students I currently have need. Here are some pictures of my sensory room over the years. 

Sensory Bottles

Entrance to sensory room and shoe organizer full of fidgets and toys. 

A look at some items inside and outside of the room. 

A peek inside the calming things in the room. 

Two looks at the evolution of my tactile board. Some things have been added and taken away over the years. 

How do you know what your students need? Well you have to understand the different things that can affect the senses of our students. Children with sensory processing disorders can be oversensitive to sights, sounds, textures, flavors, smells and other sensory input.This means that pretty much anything and everything can either help or hurt our students with sensory processing disorders. 

Here is a video explaining a little more about Sensory Processing Disorders:

So, what are the steps to helping those students? The first thing I've always done is contacted my Occupational Therapist and had them conduct an observation of the student in the classroom and usually they have the parents and myself fill out a survey of the behaviors that are seen both in the classroom and home. 

Here is a simple checklist that you could use (there are tons out there if you search) but, I like that this is broken down into different age groups. These checklists also can help you understand the type of behaviors and whether the student is seeking sensory input or if they are trying to avoid the sensory input. Unfortunately, if you can't figure this out it would be hard to help the student without doing TONS of trial and error. This image is helpful in understanding:

Sensory modulation quadrants: relationship between sensory threshold and self-regulation 22 , 36 , 37 . Figure adapted from 60

I am no expert on what the solution to a students sensory needs would be but, I have experience dealing with students that have both seeking and avoiding needs. I have tried many different items and even started doing sensory diet schedules that require my students to participate in different activities based on their needs. I had the help of my occupational therapist to come up with these activities. 

So, do you want to start your own room or area in your classroom and have no ideas on how to start? Check this visual for the kinds of things can you can get! Here is just some of the many that I have used!
 SENSORY ROOM: How to Build a Successful Sensory Room for Greater Brain Development

Here is a link to a freebie in my store that gives options to students for a sensory break! It is also editable so you can put in the items you'd like or have! 

This is a link to some posters that help explain Sensory Processing Disorders that may be helpful for training paras or other staff that come into the classroom.  FREEBIE

Thursday, June 14, 2018

5 Ways to Fight Teacher Burnout

Hustle And Bustle Woman Face Arrows Stress
I'm sure most of you are finishing out the school year and you are thinking to yourself, how can you possibly manage doing this another year and another year after that? The burnout rate in teachers is rising and with that happening more and more college programs have class numbers that are dwindling. No one wants to be a teacher. This is alarming. There was a time when I was graduating college (not that long ago) and there were a ton of us worried to death that we wouldn't be able to get a job and now there are some states that are accepting people with just a bachelors degree to step in the classroom and teach our students.

I have decided that in order to help you all feel better about returning after this summer break you need to start planning NOW to fight that teacher burnout. You need to come up with ways that you are going to not allow the stress of teaching to get to you that you just want to flat out quit. The funny thing is that you are all probably thinking about how to minimize the IEP meetings, the staff meetings, the paperwork, the grading. Honestly, there are tips that you can use to fine tune some of those but, ultimately those things are out of your control. Many times the items that we allow to stress us out are things that we cannot control.
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I am planning to give you advice on the ways that you can control the mindset that you have about your teaching job. This will allow you to fight that burnout and be able to love what you do. I am no means an expert but, these few pieces of information have helped me to change how I think about my job and my workload.

1. Realize that you are not a superhero and that you can't do everything. 
Multi-Tasking, Efficiency, Manager, Time
We all try really hard to put on that show that we have it all together. Honestly, be real with yourself and just know that you don't and that it is okay. Many of us are teachers but, we also wear many other hats that span from mom, wife, girlfriend, sister, daughter, church member, coach, volunteer, student, etc. The teacher community (especially on social media lately) has been blowing up with posts from fellow teachers that many people think have it together, and actually don't. There is nothing wrong with this and the sooner you are willing to admit it and share it with your teacher buddies the less likely we are to stress each other out that we need to get it all done. 

2. Make lists by priorities, what has to get done, what needs to get done, and what would you like to do. 

Block Lamp Get Dream Target Away Shops Per
I have found that this is something that has relieved a lot of my stress. Making lists is a way that I feel like I have accounted for the things that need to get done. Do I get a little obsessive about crossing things off? Maybe. Do I re-write the lists after I have crossed off a few things because I get obsessive compulsive about how messy it looks? I sure do. This is my process and it's how I structure the HAVES, NEEDS, and LIKES that I like to call it. Making lists with those headings is super helpful because then you can make priorities of what needs to get done when. I also sometimes put dates next to items if they have a due date. Those report cards can't get done after the due date, neither can the IEPs so I make sure that they have the date next to them so I can prioritize.

3. After lists, make a schedule and try to stick to it as best as you can. 

I am someone that if I don't have a way to hold myself accountable and it's really something I'm not into doing, I'm going to 100% procrastinate. That's just who I am and I know that. So what I do is I make lists that people know about and I schedule things and I tell people I have them scheduled. I tell my husband, my co-workers, my family and sometimes even you all then because I don't want to let them down (aka I'm a people-pleaser) I always will get the work done because of that. Making that schedule and then making it kind of public helps you to follow through, because if we refer back to #1 we all want to look like we have our stuff together.

4. Once you make the schedule put in pieces of time where you do things for yourself. 
Self Care, Umbrella, Protection, Protect
So you have prioritized, you have made a list, you have it scheduled out. Now it's time to take that schedule and put some spaces in it where you are giving yourself a break here and there. This doesn't mean that for 3 weeks you have fun but, you take small pieces of time while you keep those due dates in mind and you take time for yourself. It could mean you stop and watch a movie, you get your nails done, you have dinner with a friend, or you read a book that you want to. Making sure that you are taking breaks to do things that you love will keep you fresh and re-energized to come back to what you need to do with the proper devotion.

5. Don't feel the pressure to have it all figured out.
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 You are in a position where you are constantly growing, evolving, and changing. The field of education is always changing and it is partly our job to make sure that we keep up with them. This can be super overwhelming and at times you are just not going to have a handle on it all. You are going to have to be okay with times when things are not figured out. I spend a lot of the summer with a whirlwind in my head of wondering what my class list is going to look like, what my schedule is going to look like and again I cannot control this. So, you sometimes have to let go that you don't have it all figured out and just enjoy what you are doing in the time being. Do what you can in the moment that you have.

Some of these tips are definitely easier said then done but, the thing is that I know that if I start to take control of the things that I can that it has made it easier on me to deal with. I hope that you find that some or all of these tips have helped you gain the mindset that can help you to not feel as though that this school year is your last.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Using Unique Learning Systems: Part 2 Reading

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I have been wanting to do these posts for a while now, because I feel I have finally fell in love with Unique Learning Systems. I always thought that there was value in this curriculum and I was the one on my team that brought it to them and said we HAVE to get this. For so many years there was nothing and teachers were creating materials for everything that they did in their classroom because nothing was adapted for them.
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This curriculum is amazing and I know that some people have said that they can't handle it because it has a lot of materials and I get that, but I'm not going to complain about having TOO MANY materials. I mean when as a special education teacher have you been able to say that??? So, yes there are over 500+ pages of materials every month for students just in my grade level (which is middle school) but, I just use what I need, and I print what I need.

This blog post is meant to show you what pieces I have found work for my classroom and how I organize them. I do not use everything but, I have the mindset that if I can master using this piece by piece then maybe I can find a purpose for it all at some point and get the best out of this amazing curriculum.

In the middle school level there are books that are considered chapters that feed off of one another whereas from what I understand of the elementary curriculum the books follow the theme but aren't connected like chapters. This really doesn't matter in my opinion for organizing it but, wanted to reference that. So, the first thing I do is look through the next month's curriculum. I download the entire PDF onto my computer. It looks like this:

Then I go through the file on my computer (I DO NOT PRINT EVERYTHING!) and I write down the page numbers of the books and comprehension sheets that I use onto a sticky note. Then I print ONLY one set of the chapter books and the worksheets that go with each chapter.

After I print I sort it by the books in one pile and I staple the books together so they are ready to use. I only use one set of the books (at each of the different reading levels) but, since I only teach students one at a time I only need one copy. Then I take the worksheets and even though I don't use every worksheet with every student I make a copy of each set for each chapter for each student. That way I have many materials ready to go for the students. In my case I have 5 students so I make 5 copies of the worksheets for each book.

In order to organize this I use the following materials: Available here: Amazon Affiliate

- (1) 2" binder or larger
- Dividers with Pockets

- Post it Tabs

 In the middle school version there are 7 books for the month that can be read. So I take the first book which is small and I stick it in the front pocket of the binder.

 I also place the worksheets for that book in the very front of it and label each students' worksheets by using a Post-It tab with the students' initials on it.

Then every other chapter I take a divider with pockets and I stick the books in the pocket and label that the corresponding chapter. 

 Then I put the worksheets for that chapter with the tabs separating the students after the divider so it's right with the book.

 I continue this process for each and every chapter.

It has taken me quite a while to figure all this out and it has been a labor of love, but it is what works for me. Hopefully for anyone that is overwhelmed with all the materials of Unique this was helpful. As always feel free to contact me at anytime!

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Why Is He Doing That? Teaching Acceptance through Literacy

One thing that I love about our society lately is people are all about acceptance and understanding. There are SOOOO many resources out that you can use to share and educate the students in your classroom about and more specifically there has been an increase in materials that you can bring right to your students.
1972546_10202848500200708_1110540396823374327_n.jpgI was given the opportunity to read a book called, "Why Is He Doing That?" This book is written by Rachel M. Cuellar. She is the author and illustrator of the book. She wrote the book when she was nineteen years old! She has many experiences working with children of all different abilities. She has had this book published and now is in college studying to get her Masters in Special Education. I met her through social media and she is such a lovely and sweet person.

Now, back to the book, the things that I love about this book is that Rachel really thought about a few things. She took a young boy in third grade named Gerald and described him in a way that is positive and yet honest. The things that Gerald does in the story depicts the very common characteristics of a person with autism but, she goes on to explain some of the reasons why he is doing those things. I think often when we educate children on autism we don't always explain the reasons why and this is one reason I love this book.

She has these great illustrations that really truly depict the things that others may think as they try to understand someone with autism and she conveys how a person with autism may be feeling in different scenarios. This can provide understanding in another way then just through the words.

Another thing that is great about this book is the line, "Gerald is different, just like everyone else." Which is such a powerful line. It is something that is said over and over in the book and for obvious reasons. This is a line that every child needs to hear. We are all different in our own ways whether it is struggles or strengths and everyone around us is just like us in that thought. We may not all have the same differences but, we are all different from one another. That can be a little deep for some younger students but, just that exposure to a saying like that can start awareness and acceptance and that is exactly what we want.

You can visit the website for the book at WhyIsHeDoingThat.com where there is a podcast and you can learn more about the information and the story behind the book! Also, Rachel has created a blog within her site that gives information on building more awareness for anyone wanting to more about people with disabilities. You can also purchase her book there.

Want to meet Rachel and learn more about her book? Check out this video!

This book is a great way to start up an acceptance library. There are many other books out there that you can read to your class to help gain awareness and acceptance. I have created a link to Amazon where I have listed this book and a few others that have really been a great part of my library that I've used for many years with students and families that I have worked with. You can find that here. 

Monday, March 26, 2018

Using Unique Learning Systems Part 1: Math

Image result for unique learning system math

This program is something I feel as though some teachers love or they hate. The intentions of this blog post is not to give it a review. I'm going to share how I have taken a curriculum that I have had access to for the last 3 years and tell you how I have made it work for my middle school classroom. Most of the pictures you are going to see are coming from the middle school grade band. They are adapted a TON to help my students that function at more of a kindergarten to third grade level.

I will be honest. This was hard, but the realistic thing to note is that any curriculum that a teacher of a student with a disability is trying to use is not going to fit perfectly. That is WHY we work with these kids because the traditional curriculum doesn't fit their needs and in some cases, this curriculum won't fit your students needs either. That is the reality of what we do and sometimes the most frustrating. If you are looking for an end all curriculum that works for every student in your classroom every year, then you might as well start hunting for Bigfoot, the Bermuda Triangle, and the Lochness Monster. 

I started out honestly using very little of this curriculum my first year because I was SUPER overwhelmed. I loved the idea that this curriculum provided a lot of options for students but then, when I got it I was overwhelmed that it had so many options. So I decided that first year I was just going to take pieces of it and try it out, it really was the only way in my mind that I could figure it out. 

If you are unfamiliar with this curriculum here is how they describe it on their website which I have also linked. www.n2y.com

"A living curriculum with high-interest educational content that’s always up-to-date and aligned to all state standards."

"Unprecedented meaningful access to the general education curriculum, current events news and communication tools that are modified to meet Individualized Education Plan (IEP) goals."

The way this curriculum works is there are language arts materials and math materials every month. The type of material doesn't change so it provides consistency for our students but the content will change so that every month there is either a social studies or a science theme to it. So when you do a math worksheet you might be adding together telescopes because we are tying it to the scientific method. This part of the curriculum I LOVE because it is so hard to get all subject areas in during the day!
Image result for unique learning system

So, I started diving in my first year without using any of the data collection tools that are on the website (they are pretty amazing now that I've watched a few webinars). I grabbed the math materials first. It seemed simple enough to take those and just try to make them work for my students. Here are a few pictures of what some of those materials look like.


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Like I said before, every month you get a TON of materials that you can choose to do as paper and pencil or utilizing your smartboard or iPads. I chose to go with paper and pencil and I noticed that the math materials gave so many options but it was hard to sort them out and feel like I was giving each student what they needed. I also had a wide range of abilities in my classroom and I had students working on counting and there were no counting materials or there was one worksheet. This was not going to last me for a month!! 

Here is the list of lessons that you get every month with the program at the middle school level. The lower levels have some phonics and other concepts that are more commonly done at those grade levels. The high school and transition grade bands have more job and vocational skill activities.

For my higher functioning students these materials were good because there were options for computation, money, measurement, reading graphs, and geometry and that worked nicely. I would take the materials every month sort them by the student that needed them and put them into the student's work binder. (The student binder is a whole other post.)

So, in conclusion the math did not work out well for my classroom and that is okay. It may work great for you but, it wasn't so great for my classroom this year. This doesn't mean that next year the students I have will benefit from the math program. I may have more students that have IEP goals that go along with the content that is taught in the grade band I have access to.

In the next post I have planned we are going to talk about the success story I had with Unique Learning Systems and their reading curriculum. I can't wait to share more about this with you all!

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.

Image result for teach love autism
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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