Sunday, August 21, 2016

Literacy Groups in a Special Ed. Classroom {freebie!}

I've had a few people ask how I running literacy/ reading groups in my severe-needs classroom, so I decided to share how we do them!

First, I split students into groups based on needs and similar IEP goals. For example, my kiddos who are working on identifying letters and beginning letter sounds are grouped together, my students with Vision impairments who are working on Braille are grouped together, and my students working on matching pictures and letters are paired together. I make as many groups as I have staff (I normally have 3 paras but during literacy the vision para is in our room, so I get to have an extra group, YAY!). I make a tub for each group with students' names on them. The tubs are great because I can update them daily/ weekly (depending on the kiddos) and then staff can just grab the tub for whatever group they're working with.

Each tub contains the 3 things:
1) A simple "literacy plan" that shows what students should be working on and what supports they might need
2) A phonics/ letter activity, depending on students' needs
3) An interactive story and possibly a comprehension activity

A few ideas for the phonics/ letter activities:
-I love the old school Lakeshore Learning letter tubs. They're great for hands-on learning about letters and letter sounds. Check out the letter tubs I made here.
-Differentiate the activities with visual prompts, Braille or real objects.
-Use interactive beginning letter sound books. You can get this beginning consonant printable for free here. It's great because there are two versions- one with a visual prompt and one without visuals.

This a super basic example of our reading groups, but hopefully it helps you to get an idea of how they work for our room.

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Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Ideas for Circle Time in a Sped. Classroom {freebie}

Another year... another circle time... I continue to struggle to update and change my circle time. I can have my kiddos for up to 6 years (YIKES!), so I try to mix it up quite a bit from year to year so they're getting exposure to different academic tasks and not getting bored. I mean, how long does a kiddo need to work on basic calendar skills?!! I'm nixing the normal calendar and weather tasks and focusing on more functional academics and social skills instead ;)

If you don't know the basics of how I run/ set up circle time, check out this post about running whole groups effectively. For more circle time ideas, check out this post, or this one! I set it up this way to make it interactive and to stretch the kiddos' stamina by embedding breaks into the lesson.

Here are the basics of what we are doing for circle time this year:

Kids will practice greeting their peers and staff in a variety of ways. To greet peers, they can wave, speak, sign, or use any of the voice output devices available. We have simple things like "good morning" and "Buenos dias" on single switch Big Macs, and then use a GoTalk9 that has all of the students & staff names if a kid wants to say "hello" to someone specific.

Vocabulary/ Social Skills
I'm still spending a decent amount of time during circle time with direct instruction  around the core 40 vocabulary and social skills. (If the Core 40 is new to you, you can read a little bit about it here). It's a great building block for kiddos who are using communication devices or PECS.

A few ideas for working on social skills:
-Have kids practice taking turns with motivating toys. I normally start with one toy that is motivating to every student (i.g. the little piano). Each student gets a chance to play with the toy, while the kid is playing with the toy, the teachers quietly say a count down and when they get to 0, the student needs to pick the student he will take turns with next.
-Set kids up to have to ask for help (For example, if they can't open a Ziplock: give them a closed Ziplock with a cracker or reinforcing toy inside. Then prompt/teach the kiddo how to ask for help from a peer/ staff. Note: this is just to teach communicating for "help," I realize in other settings or situations you would likely want to prompt and teach the kiddo to open the baggie).

A few ideas for working on vocabulary:
-Use books about the words! I made a few super simple books about the words go, same and different. You can get them for free here. We read the book as a group and then practice using it with hands on activities.

-Same and different: Find worksheets that correspond with the vocabulary. I laminated them and we do them during vocabulary time. You can find some great free printable worksheets about same and different here, here, and here.
-Put in: Find items that light up or make noise. Then have kiddos practice and "put in" in a jar or can.
-Go: Find toys that move! I use this chick a lot. I wind it once, let the kids see it hop a few times and then look at the kids like "what do you want?!" and encourage them to communicate "go". I also often make the sentence "I go" and then I run around the classroom, then I make the sentence "you go" and point to each kid and encourage them to practice with "go".

-All & Some: Use objects like blocks or pencils to show kiddos the difference between "some" and "all."

It might seem daunting at first to try to teach kiddos some of these words, but once you start finding concrete ways to show/explain the words, it gets super fun!

Letter identification/ Phonics
This year I'm going to work on a variety of letter/ phonics things during circle time. Some kiddos will be matching/ verbally identifying letters, some will be touching Brailled letters, and some will be do beginning constant work.

 I made this new book to use during circle time. It has more pictures on each page than the book I used last year. Students match the letter in the boxes to the big letter on the page.
You can download this alphabet book for free from my TpT store here.

Jokes/ sequencing 
l had to keep jokes time! We program jokes into Big Macs and TwinTalks. Kiddos can then tell jokes to their peers and teachers. It's fun to put the jokes on TwinTalks because you can put the question on one switch and the punch line on the second switch. We also add fun stuff like a big red clown nose and silly glasses from the Dollar Store to make jokes time even better.

Our calendar work during circle time SUPER basic this year. I spent a lot of time trying to make our circle time include more functional academics, and I just don't think it's very important for my kiddos to spend too much time making sentences about the days of the week. This year, I opted for a small calendar and we are working on sequencing numbers and patterns. I'll be posting these calendar printables on TpT soon!

I moved away from the tradition sentence stem and am having kiddos work on fine motor skills by putting a clip on the weather for the day. You can download and print it here for free. We are also working on functional skills of matching our clothing to the weather by dressing this cute weather bear! I found it on TpT here for only $0.80! What a steal!

Hopefully you enjoy these ideas and can try one or two of them!

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Friday, August 12, 2016

3 Tips for Training Special Ed. Paras

I totally get how stressful it can be to train sped paras... Like I've said before, every year I have taught I have had at least 1 new para, which means training training and more training! This year I have 2 new paras so I really need to step up my training game. Balancing required school trainings/ PDs and making sure you have time to train your paras can be tricky! Check out these three tips to get the most bang for your buck out of your para PD.

1) Use Technology 
Sometimes it's hard to find time to train paras the week before school starts when teachers are required to attend of trainings too. I started using technology to train paras and it's been great!! I use Autism Training Modules the most. It's awesome because it has a ton of 15-30 minute modules on a variety of topics (just a few are: antecedent-based interventions, PRT, prompting, reinforcement, language and communication, extinction, discrete trial training, and PECS) and paras can complete the modules when I'm at other trainings or sometimes even during the school day. The modules have videos, great real-life examples and printable/ internet based resources. The best part is it's FREE!!
Another good piece of technology to use is good ole Powerpoint. You can easily record yourself talking or videos of yourself so paras can review the PPTs when you're in teacher trainings and then they can ask questions later.

2) Provide paras with visuals
Visuals are HUGE for our kiddos and for adults. I use visuals to remind paras about behavioral expectations, prompting, zoning plans and so much more!
Student snapshot visual I give paras and general ed. teachers.

Behavior visuals

Behavior visuals- if you're interested in these, you can get them for FREE from my TpT store here.
Staff word wall (So we don't always just tell the kiddos "good job" or "good work")
Here are examples of the zoning plans I use. I have one for each subject/ time of day so all staff can clearly see where each student should be and what staff should be working with/ supervising those kiddos. I make them all in Powerpoint. If you want an editable version, feel free to leave your email address in the comments and I'll send it to you (It would definitely take some time for you to change/edit it a lot to make it work for your classroom).

3) Keep it SIMPLE at first
Do your best to keep things simple at the beginning of the year. Don't throw out a ton of acronyms and "teacher words" or you're going to stress out your paras. Most sped. teachers are able to use more common language with parents at IEP meetings, and we need to do this with our paras at the beginning of the year too! Don't start using the million sped-y  acronyms like BIPs, FBAs, VODs, ABIs, PECS, PMII, PRT, SGD, and blah blah blah until your classroom staff have actually been taught what they mean! It might sound like common sense, but I still find myself catching myself using behavior/ABA vocab during trainings for paras and I need to rephrase stuff.

Please share any tips you have to train special ed paras at the beginning of the school year!

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Monday, August 8, 2016

3 Ways to Incorporate Student Interests in a Special Ed. Classroom

I often have kiddos who refuse to work or to even join the group in my classroom, but incorporating students' interests into the classroom and lessons has really helped with student engagement!  It may seem like a pain or a waste of time, but tapping into students' interests really increases participation and brings so much joy to the kiddos. Another bonus to incorporating students' interests into lessons and activities is that most states/ districts include this as part of a teacher evaluations. Haaaaaay, higher evaluation scores! Get ready for lots of Minions and Frozen characters! :-P

I have found three easy ways to incorporate students' interests in the classroom:
  • Label students' chairs with their name AND one of their favorite characters. This has been super helpful for some of my kiddos who are reluctant to join the group or sit during academic activities. It might sound crazy, but I often say to the kiddos something like, "Go sit with Elsa!" or "Go to your princess chair!" and they are more likely to follow the directions. It's a good step in teaching kiddos to join the group and to sit.

  • Buy materials with students' favorites characters. I know it sounds horrible to hear "spend more money!" but buying supplies saves you time, and if you can get stuff at the Dollar Store or in Target's dollar bin, it's totally work it! I love these Minion and Frozen writing books I found at Target. I have a few kiddos who despise writing time but are more willing to work when it's in their awesome notebooks. 

  • Make academic materials that include students' interests. As special ed teachers, we often have to make most of our academic activities and materials for working on IEP goals. It doesn't take much extra work to make the activities include students' favorite characters! I keep clipart of loved characters (mostly Frozen, Minions, and Micky Mouse) saved on my computer so creating the activities is quick and easy.  I also include students' favorite characters during independent work time/ task boxes.
    If you want to save time and buy some themed activities, check out my Monsters Inc, Frozen and Minion (this one is free) math activities. 

Remember, when incorporating students' interest, you don't have to change the content, but just how it looks! Do you have any tips or ideas for easily incorporating students' interests into your classroom to increase engagement? 

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Sunday, August 7, 2016

Tips & Resources for Math Lessons in a Special Ed. Classroom {FREEBIE}

Math is something that is can be tough to teach in self-contained special ed classrooms. I used to really dislike teaching math, but once I started running math groups the way I run my circle time/ morning meeting, I really started to love teaching math! If you teach math as a whole group, check out my tips for running whole group activities effectively.

So, here are the basics of how I run my math groups:
  • I use a Powerpoint document to run the lesson (I project it on my interactive whiteboard).
  • I have a FREE and EDITABLE generic math lesson/ template that you can download from my TpT store here
  • Students do a variety of tasks/ activities about a topic (the tasks last anywhere between 2-5 minutes), then they watch 1-2 educational music videos about the topic. During the videos, students are allowed to dance/sing as they watch, but are expected to stay with the group area.
  • Repeat above a few times, depending on the kiddos' stamina. At the end of last year, our math group was about 25-30 minutes long! When you have video breaks between tasks, you'll be surprised at how long kiddos can last!

Logistics/ Tips:
  • I change the videos about every other week
  • I find all of the videos on Youtube, save them and put them in the PPT. (There are step-by-step directions to this process in the Powerpoint)
  • I found that it works best if I turn the screen/projecter OFF when I'm not playing the videos because then kids are less distracted by the screen. For example, when we are working/ doing the activities, my interactive smartboard is turned OFF. Then when the kiddos are done with the activities, I turn the screen back ON. When the board is OFF it's a cue to my kiddos that it's time to sit/work and when the board is ON it cues them that it's time for videos (kids are allowed to dance/ sing and aren't "working")
  • Organization:
    • I use large tubs to organize math supplies/ activities by the day of the week. I have a large tub for each day. Each tub contains a variety of large Ziplocs and each Ziploc contains materials/ activities for a specific topic (like counting/ numbers, colors, shapes, money, etc). 
    • This makes it super simple and organized! For example, if it's Monday, I grab the Monday tub. I pull out all of the Ziplocs and set them on a little table next to the Smartboard. When it's time to do work around colors, I grab the color Ziploc and students complete the activities inside. Then I put it away and grab the Ziploc that corresponds with the next topic. 
    • I switch the activities in the Ziploc about every 2-3 weeks. Since students are doing different activities each day of the week, I don't think it's important to change the activities in the Ziplocs out weekly.

I hope this helps to explain how I run fun and interactive math lessons in my room. Please ask clarifying questions if any of this doesn't make sense. It makes perfect sense in my brain because I've been doing it this way for over a year, but I'm not sure if I'm putting it into words well. Also share any tips or math resources you have! Enjoy :)

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Friday, August 5, 2016

Differentiating independent work time in a severe-needs classroom

A lot of teachers run independent work time (AKA task boxes, workbox stations, work systems, etc.) in a very structured/ specific way (the TEACCH way is pretty common). I got my undergrad degree and taught in North Carolina, so I'm very familiar with the TEACCH approach for running independent work sessions. However, I have found that making a few tweaks and modifications to the traditional system has been beneficial to my kiddos in my severe-needs classroom.

Here's the basics for how the TEACCH approach is set up:
Photo source
If this approach is new to you, you can read more here and here. Don't get me wrong, the TEACCH approach is amazing, but throughout the years, I've found that many of my students with severe-needs need some modifications to the system. I quickly realized that many of my students were getting really distracted by the "extra stuff" in traditional system or weren't able to complete steps in the system. So, I started removing/ modifying pieces of the approach as needed.

First, I removed the toy/ activity visual that is the reinforcer for finishing the task (my students still get free choice after they finish their work, but I removed the visual). I had a few kiddos who were just obsessing over the visual of the toy, and they couldn't get through the work because they were so distracted by the visual of the super preferred item. Instead, I show students a simple "first/ then" before they start independent work. For example, I could show them, "first table work, then chips," but then I would not leave the chip symbol on the student's desk.

Many of the TEACCH programs also include a visual schedule for kiddos that shows them what tasks they need to complete. This often involves having kiddos match picture cards to identify/find what tasks they need to complete. I have numerous kiddos who can't match independently yet, so I removed this step from my system. Instead, we simply set the work out for the kiddos to complete. I like the thought of the kiddos matching cards to identify what work they should do next, but my kiddos just aren't there yet. Below is how I used to do it. The little schedule card showed kiddos what box they needed to get off the shelf and complete (they matched the colored shape on the schedule to the colored shape on the box).

This is how I do it now... The work to be completed is simply stacked to the left of the kiddo. No more complex matching system!

As a severe needs teacher, I have to take into account a variety of things when it comes to independent work time, but the thing that impacts my kiddos the most when it comes down to it is motor skills. For example, some of my kiddos can't open and close the plastic tubs, so we use large Ziplocs instead. Tip: leave Ziplocs open or use the slider Ziplocs for kiddos who don't have good fine motor skills yet.

I realize that the structure in an independent work system is SO important, so I have a few main components that are included in all of my independent work systems. Here are the basics components of independent work systems in my severe-needs classroom:
  • All work in the system is at student's independent level
  • Students work from left to right (the work to be completed is on the left of the kiddo and the work that has already been completed is to the right of the kiddo)
  • Student's DO NOT take their work apart
  • Completed work goes in a designated spot

Here are a few examples of independent work stations in my classroom. They're all slightly different to meet the kiddo's individual needs, but they all include the main components above. 

I also have generic task analyses data sheets to track students' levels, but I'll save that for another post ;)

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