Wednesday, July 5, 2017

DIY Simple Assistive Technology

I seriously love a good DIY classroom project, especially if it saves me money and meets the individual needs of my kiddos. Assistive tech (or AT) is a very general term and can include a variety of equipment, software, etc. that improves the functional and academic abilities of students with disabilities.

AT can cost a lot of money in special education classrooms, and let's be real... we don't have a lot of money!  It can also be particularly hard to purchase AT for kiddos with multiple/ severe needs because our kiddos often need VERY individualized AT. I've come up with a few super cheap DIY options for some of the AT needs in my classroom.

Clipboard Choice/ Answer Board:
Clipboards have SO many functions and possibilities in the classroom! I love to use clipboards as choice and answer boards during instruction and free choice time. I put 2-6 (depending on the kiddo) choices or answer options on Velcro on the clipboard and then present the clipboard to the kiddos so they can select an answer. You can also add a piece of Velcro somewhere at the top of the clipboard to give kiddos a visual/ matching prompt if needed!

The left clipboard shows an example without a visual prompt. On the right, there is a "sunny" picture at the top of the clipboard to provide students with a visual prompt of the correct answer.

PVC Pipe Choice / Answer Stick:

I made this simple PVC pipe stick for kiddos who eye gaze and have physical disabilities. This is great because it's long (there's about 6 inches between each picture), so students who eye gaze or who have difficulties pointing to small areas/pictures due to a physical disability can easily select answers without confusing staff about what picture they're pointing to. You can also simply attach Velcro and pictures to a ruler or paint stick from Home Depot, but I like this PVC pipe option better because it has a handle. The handle avoids your hand getting in the way/ blocking the view of any picture cards.

Choice/ answer stick made with PVC pipe... because we don't have 4 arms ;)

DIY Slant/ Communication Board:
This might be my all-time favorite DIY piece of AT equipment.... This slant board is made from the cardboard that bed sheet sets come in! I literally just followed the folds/creases that were already in the cardboard, glued the flap down, spray painted it and glued a clip to the top! And voila, a fancy new slant/ communication board holder! Since I a lot of students with physical disabilities, I added Velcro to the bottom of the slant board and then Velcroed it to the table so it doesn't move around when students are using it.

The cardboard from bed sheet sets make amazinggg slant boards!

What are your go-to DIY assistive tech hacks?

Monday, July 3, 2017

DIY Sturdy Sensory Bags

My kiddos love anything that involves sensory play! However, I have some rough kiddos who can easily destroy the sensory bags made with Ziploc's. I follow an amazing Instagram account called SENteachingideas, and she posted about how she uses laminating pouches for sensory bags. That idea sure got my wheels turning! I ended up making sturdier sensory bags using vacuum sealing pouches... I won't dare call them indestructible, but we've used them for more than 2 weeks at ESY and they've lasted through being hit and bit repeatedly!

Here's a short tutorial how to make them:

1) Gather your supplies:
-Some kind of vacuum sealing machine (I used a FoodSaver vacuum sealer)
-Vacuum sealing bags/ pouches (I used these)
-Liquid fillers
-Hard fillers

2) Fill the bag with your liquid of choice. 

3) Add fillers of your choice.
This blog post from PracticallyFunctional has some fun filler ideas!

4) Start vacuuming and sealing!
Now it's time to vacuum seal! I didn't let the FoodSaver vacuum out all of the air (I just stopped it and sealed it right before all of the air was out of the bag). Then I did a second seal for extra reinforcement! ;)

Sensory bag ideas:

This blog post from Familyicious has a TON of awesome sensory bag filler ideas that you could make with a vacuum sealer! What are your favorite sensory bag fillers?!

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Independent Work Organization

Organization in special ed classrooms can be tricky! If you're like me and have a lot of adults in your classroom (we have 5-7 staff in the classroom depending on the day!), then organization is even more important! You're busy enough and can't spend any extra time looking for supplies/ materials or trying to explain to someone where materials are in the classroom. I've changed how I organize my independent work SO many times the last few years because I was struggling to find a system that worked for me and my staff. I think I'm finally happy with our organization system and don't think I'll be changing it much anytime soon!

I keep put in/ sorting work bins in this bookshelf with cubbies. We have them organized in rows based on if they're put in or sorting tasks (It's hard to see, but there are labels glued on the top of the bookshelf that say "sorting" and "put-in"). I also have more boxes put away in a cabinet that we rotate out every 2 weeks.

Our paper tasks are neatly organized in binders. First, I separate tasks based on topic (colors, counting, letters, shapes, science, social studies, time, etc.).

After I have tasks sorted by topic, I then separate the tasks based on levels.
The levels I include in my classroom are:

I put the tasks separated by topics AND levels into separate binders. Next, I bought a TON of colored stickers from the Dollar Tree and assigned a color to each level. Then I put the corresponding sticker on the binders and on each page/task in the binder. Putting the stickers on each individual piece of work is HUGE because it makes sure that all staff put the correct level of work into the correct binder!

Last, I made a little cheat sheet to show everyone in my classroom exactly what work/ tasks each students can complete during independent work. I found the cheat sheet to be very helpful because it eliminates kids getting work at independent work time that isn't really at their independent level. It holds us all accountable for ensuring our kiddos are successful at independent work time!

I realize this system won't work for every classroom, but I wanted to share it because it's been awesome for my classroom! We have used this system for about a semester and it's been going very smoothly! Do you have any tips or tricks for organizing independent work in your classroom?

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Tips for using edible reinforcers in the classroom

I realize that it isn't realistic (or beneficial to students) to only rely on using food, or edibles, to get students to comply with directions and complete work. However, I also see the importance of using edibles initially with certain students. Edibles are meaningful reinforcers for young students who have a limited range of reinforcers (for example, the student doesn't have a variety of toys/ activities that are reinforcing to him)  and for students who have severe behaviors. It's important to use edible reinforcers strategically so that edibles aren't the ONLY reinforcer you use. 

A few tips for using edible reinforcers in the classroom:

-Alternate between salty and sweet:
You don't want kiddos to get bored of snacks or flavors that you're using as reinforcers. A way to avoid this is to vary your snacks and to alternate between a salty edible and a sweet edible. You can also alternate between an edible and a small sip of juice or milk. Alternating snacks will avoid satiation (e.g. The kiddo eats so many Skittles, that Skittles are no longer reinforcing; so Skittles temporarily decrease the kiddo's learning/ performance). 

A side note/ tip around drinks as reinforcers: it's a good idea to provide students with a cup and then you can pour only a small sip of juice/ milk into the cup to avoid them slurping down an entire juice/ milk box in 3 seconds. 

This tip is pretty simple... Kids are different and they won't all enjoy the same edibles (shocker!). It's important to identify what edibles are reinforcing to kiddos to ensure that they're actually motivated to work/ comply with requests. 

You can easily figure out what edibles are reinforcing to kiddos a few ways:

1) A super easy way is to just ask the kiddo (if he or she is verbal) or ask his/her parents or care givers what the kiddo's favorite snacks are. Parents can normally easily identify what snacks their kiddo loves.

2) It can also be helpful to identify edibles that are reinforcing by observing the kiddo... Watch the kiddo in the lunch room- what snack/food does the student eat first from his lunch? If you're in the home, watch the student in the kitchen and see what foods he gravitates towards.

3) Once you have an idea of what edibles are reinforcing to the kiddo, test it out! 

Here's a little example/ scenario of how to test edible reinforcers:

You're working with a kiddo named Billy. Billy's mom says he loves M&Ms, Cheetos and fruit snacks and that he hates all fruits and vegetables. When you observed Billy in the lunch room, you notice that he ate the fruit snacks in his lunch box first, then he ate the M&Ms and ate Cheetos last; he never ate his apple, gold fish or popcorn. If you want to test out the reinforcers with Billy, you could place a variety of edibles in front of him and just watch what he does and doesn't eat. For example, if you put a fruit snack, M&M, gold fish and piece of popcorn in front of him at the same time and he only eats the fruit snack and M&M, those are probably reinforcing to him, while the gold fish and popcorn might not be appropriate reinforcers for Billy.

To try to identify what edibles are most reinforcing to Billy, you can put numerous items that Billy finds reinforcing (M&Ms, fruit snacks and Cheetos) on the table at the same time and see what snack he goes for first, second and last. Although you should remember that this isn't the only reliable way to know what's most reinforcing to Billy, because if Billy ate an entire bag of Cheetos before school that day, he might go for the M&M first, but if Billy hasn't had Cheetos in 3 days, he might go for the Cheetos first. With that said, it's important to play with reinforcers regularly to see what is reinforcing to the kiddo on that specific day. If you're working with Billy and he doesn't seem into fruit snacks that day, just skip using fruit snacks during work that day. 

Once you know what each kiddo likes, you can make little boxes to store and organize edible reinforcers. These little boxes are really convenient because whatever staff member is working with the specific student can just grab the box and go. I found the below boxes are the Dollar Tree, but Micheal's also has cheap options and a variety of sizes!

Individualized edible reinforcer boxes with student initials on the front.

-Cut edibles in half (when possible) and use small items!
I wouldn't consider myself a health nut by any means, but I do think it's important to try to do our best to keep our kiddos healthy and to not indulge them in too much sugar. I cut any edibles I can in half try to reduce the calorie and sugar intake of the kiddos I'm working with and I only use small edibles as reinfocers. 

Great small edibles include: cereal, popcorn, goldfish, popcorn, Skittles, M&Ms, mini chocolate chips, Smarties, Jelly beans

Edibles that cut/split well includeTwizzlers nips,any fruit snacks, sour patch kids, gummy worms & bears, the mini marshmellows, chips and pretzels, Teddy Grahams

A Twizzlers nibs cut in half.

-Always pair edibles with verbal praise:
It's very important to pair the delivery of an edible with verbal praise. 
If you pair the edible with a verbal praise, it will help you to fade the edible so that down the road, students can simply be reinforced by your verbal praise! 

Here are a few examples of how you could pair verbal praise with an edible with Billy (our friend above):
-Billy is sitting with the group for circle time (the desired behavior), as you're handing Billy a Cheeto you could say, "Wow! Fabulous sitting, Billy! Have a Cheeto!"

-You want Billy to match a green card to a green plate (behavior), when Billy correctly matches the card you could say, "Right! You matched green, well done!" while handing Billy a fruit snack at the same time. 

-Fade the edibles:
It's crucial to fade the use of edibles over time! It's not realistic to think that a kiddo can get an M&M or Skittle for every single correct response in school for the rest of his/her academic career. Edibles shouldn't be used as a crutch for staff and students, but as a way to get students to initially start working and to see other things (like toys/ activities and verbal praise)  as reinforcing. 

Here are a few examples of how you could fade the edible reinforcers with Billy:
-Billy is working on sitting in his chair during circle time. At first, you might give Billy an edible and verbal praise every 30 seconds for sitting. Once he's mastered this, you could fade the edible to every 60 seconds, then 90 seconds, etc. As Billy masters sitting in his chair, you would continue to increase the time Billy has to sit in his chair before he earns an edible. 

-When Billy is working on matching colors, you might initially give Billy an edible and verbal praise after every single correct response. As Billy starts mastering matching colors/complying with your requests, you might start giving Billy the edible only after every 2 or 3 correct responses and continuing to increase the number of correct responses needed to earn an edible.

Note: As I'm fading the edibles, I continue to provide verbal praise for correct responses even when I'm not giving an edible.

Please, please, please feel free to share any other ideas/tips you have around using edibles in the classroom or ask any questions you have!

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Simple Task Box Ideas

If you follow my blog or TpT, you know I have a serious love for task boxes and independent work ;) I'm working ESY again this year and have students who have Autism and have very significant needs. All of my students need 1:1, and of course we don't have enough staff to provide that, so we are really using independent work to our advantage so we can get work done with other kiddos at that time. Kiddos are running independent work stations 3 times each day at ESY, so I had to make some task boxes to keep the kiddos busy.

Check them out!

Simple sorting with extra tokens we had sitting around.

Put in with cute cupcakes!

Blocks from one of our building center.

Colorful bears and Popsicle sticks!

These little sticks are from a set of math manipulatives. 

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Monday, June 19, 2017

4 Tips for supporting paraprofessionals with teaching academic skills

Unfortunately, paraprofessionals are sometimes only used for supporting with behaviors, but paras can be a HUGE asset when used to work on academic skills and IEP goals. If paras are new to the classroom or haven't been expected to lead small groups in previous classrooms, it can be scary for the teacher and paraprofessional to expect the para to lead academic instruction. 

In my classroom, all of my paras run small groups (1-3 students in a group) during math, literacy/reading and writing. I'm also pulling groups at this time, but instead of having my paras just supervising students, they're teaching too! Here are a few tips that will help to ensure that paras are supporting students' academic needs:

1) Make sure your paraprofessionals know exactly what academic skills they should be targeting
Have a "Goal Wall" in your classroom that shows each kiddos' specific IEP goals or targets. I have a goal wall in my classroom that includes the academic, OT, PT, behavior and speech goals of all of my students. It's a great way to remind the staff in our classroom what we should be working on with students. This is similar to posting weekly/ learning objectives, but they're individualized for each kiddo.  

Goal wall- you can purchase the editable template here.

2) Provide paras with lesson plans
Lesson plans don't need to be crazy long or detailed (this would actually probably stress paras out more), but you should give paras lesson plans so they know what and how they should be teaching students skills. I typically ask my paras at the beginning of the year how detailed they want lesson plans to be and then build lesson plans for them around their preferences. In the past, I've only had 1 para who wanted a super detailed/ script like lesson plan and the rest of my paras have always wanted something brief and simple to follow. I typically stick to tables that include what the student should be working on and the supports that the student will need. 

Example of a literacy lesson plan for paraprofessionals.

Editable template for paraprofessional lesson plans.

3) Determine how paras want feedback on their instruction
It can be tough to watch a para teach a skill/ lesson in a way that you wouldn't do it. Giving feedback to paras so they can improve their instruction can be hard, but it's SO important! You can use this free inventory to figure out how paras want feedback (right in the moment, in writing, etc.) so that you can ensure they can grow from your feedback.

4) Give paras visual zoning plans 
Zoning plans are awesome because they make sure that all classroom staff know exactly where in the classroom they should be and what students they should be working with. To avoid paras having another paper/form to read, I use these visual zoning plans. I basically made a visual layout of my classroom and then made a visual for where staff and students should be at specific times of our day (like reading, writing, independent work, etc.). Something I've found really helpful is to also make visual zoning plans for when I'm teaching a whole group lesson. The zoning plan for whole group lessons show paras where they should be situated and what students they should be supporting even when I'm teaching the entire group. 
Visual zoning plan examples

If you want any of the editable templates in this post, the bundle is on sale for $1 until June 25! The bundle includes a paraprofessional lesson template, editable zoning plans, and an editable goal wall template. You can purchase the bundle here

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