Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Schedules, schedules, and more schedules

Schedules, structure and predictably help special education classrooms run smoothly. There are so many different varieties of schedules out there, but it's important to find a schedule that works for each student developmentally. Here are some schedule ideas and tips for figuring out what schedule might be best for some of your kiddos.

Object schedules-
Object schedules should be used with kiddos who aren't effectively communicating with photos or picture symbols yet. If a kid can't request an item with a picture symbol or discriminate between picture symbols, then his schedule shouldn't be in picture symbols, because might not be making the connection between the object in the picture and the real thing.

Photo schedules-
Once a kid can use objects to communicate and to follow a schedule, move on to a photo schedule. Use actual pictures to create the schedule cards.


Picture symbols schedules-
Once a student has mastered using schedules with objects and photos, move on to a picture symbol schedule. These can be made on Boardmaker or any other program for creating picture symbols. Picture symbols are typically line drawings or cartoon type pictures.

Tip: Once each part of the schedule is completed, have students remove the picture symbol from the schedule and place it in a basket that says "all done".

You can make any of these schedules simple by only using 2-3 pictures/objects at a time, or you can use man pictures/objects to create a schedule for the entire day.

Please post pictures of schedules you use in your classroom or other resources in the comments that may be helpful to me or others!

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Four things to NEVER say to a special education teacher

As a special education teacher, I hear a lot of ridiculous (and rude) comments and questions from other teachers and sadly, the general public. I realize that as a sped. teacher, part of my job is educating others about individuals with disabilities, but some people are just down-right disrespectful!

I want to share (and hopefully make my fellow sped. teachers laugh) the 4 top questions/comments that make me want to claw my face off.

1. "What do you even teach 'those kids' all day?" 

First, don't call them "those kids". Second, the same stuff you're teaching your class (or the same stuff your child is learning in school). You know... reading, how to train a dragon, math, how to build forts, science, the usual....

2. "You're pretty much just a babysitter."

I haven't met a babysitter before who spends hours a day teaching math, social skills, writing, reading, and science, or one who spends her nights and weekends writing IEPs, FBAs, and BIPs... but if a babysitter like that exists, sign me up for when I have kids!

3. "What's wrong with him?"

One response, "What's wrong with YOU?"

4."Why do 'those kids' even go to school?"

Again, don't call them "those kids". First, it's every single child's right to go to school in the U.S. Second, just because a kid has a disability doesn't mean that he can't learn or shouldn't have the opportunity to learn.

I hope this gave you a little comic relief. Now it's your turn- tell me the questions and comments you've heard that make you think "WTF?!"

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Thursday, March 27, 2014

Circus Themed Lesson Ideas and Freebies

I have changed the way I set up my weekly lesson plans about 6 times already this school year. My latest kick is teaching to themes. The last few weeks I have been trying to stick to one theme for reading, math, cooking, science, writing, etc. throughout the whole week.

This week, our theme is the circus. We decorated our room a little bit, did a ton of fun lessons and activities, and even held a mini-circus in our classroom on Friday!

Coloring sorting clown with M&Ms (download for free here.)

Matching game (download for free here.)

This cute adapted Counting at the Circus book works on literacy skills as well as counting and recognizing numbers. Download it for free here.

Adapted The Circus Train book and activity
Front Cover

Carnival Games/Activities:
Pin the Face on the Clown

Bean Bag Toss

We played circus bingo. I found this great printable for free on TeachersPayTeachers.

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Saturday, January 11, 2014

Tips for a fun and meaningful circle time

Circle time (or morning meeting) is a very important time of the day for kiddos. It can help them learn basic skills like identifying their names and counting. Although circle time should be a fun time for kids, it should also be a learning opportunity with meaningful tasks. You can use it to focus on a variety of skills including math, literacy, and communication. I love our circle time routine and want to share how I the time it to encourage a variety of academic skills and communication.

-The numbers on our calendar make a pattern with the colors. Students have to follow the pattern (by saying, "green, blue, green, blue..." etc.) then student has to continue the pattern.
-Students count the days while pointing to the numbers on the calendar and have to determine what number is next.

-Students use the calendar to complete sentences including, "Today is ____." "Tomorrow will be ____." and "Yesterday was_____."
-Students complete the sentence "The month is _____."

-Students complete the sentence, "The weather is ____." (rainy, sunny, cloudy, snowy, windy)
-Then students dress "Boo Bear" (yes, the kids named him) according to the weather.

Letter of the Week/ Writing:
-Students identify the letter of the week and take turns tracing it.

Identifying names:
-All of our kids can't identify their names in print yet. So to work on this, students find their name and move it to "At School."

Between each task, we sing and dance to songs. Here are some of my students' favorite circle time songs:
Good morning song
Days of the week (Clap, clap)
7 Days are in a Week
Macarena Months 
Number Rock

Do you have any fun and meaningful circle time tasks? If so, send them my way!
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Thursday, January 2, 2014

Writing Ideas for Kiddos with Disabilities

Writing is a tricky thing to teach for a lot of special education teachers, especially when students have severe motor delays and limitations. I think it is important to teach writing lessons, even if it isn't the classic way we think of writing with paper and a pencil. Writing lessons can lead to students identifying letters and letter sounds, even if they can't write the letters with a pencil.

I have Handwriting Without Tears (HWOT) in my classroom. It's a great curriculum for kids with and without disabilities. It focuses on a variety of skills including building, printing and identifying letters. Check out the HWOT website, because even if you don't have the curriculum in your classroom, you can still get a lot of good ideas that you can implement in your classroom.

I'm sharing some of the ways I have used HWOT and modified writing for my students with physical disabilities, including building letters, tracing, a differentiated writing.

Building letters:
Have students build letters with wood pieces (from HWOT or rulers), pipe cleaners, playdough, or other classroom materials.

Students who can't hold writing utensils can stamp the letters.
Tracing letters:
Remember students can trace letters with fingers, pencils, crayons or markers, with play-dough, on page protectors, or with a car on a "letter race track". Just remember that tracing doesn't have to involve a traditional writing utensil!

Download these play-dough mats for free here

When teaching kiddos with disabilities to write, just remember to be creative because writing in a sped. classroom will look very different than a general ed. classroom!
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Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Visuals in a Severe Special Education Classroom

Visuals are a great prompt for any kid, but very few kids with multiple and severe disabilities can get through a day without visuals. Visuals can remind kids of appropriate behaviors, daily routines like hand washing and the schedule, of personal space and so much more. I have five favorite visuals that I will always have as part of my classroom.

1. Transition objects
A transition object is an object or picture symbol that a student carries with them during a transition (for example: from the classroom to the bathroom). Transition objects for kids with disabilities (especially Autism) can be very helpful at reducing problem behaviors due to the student not knowing where they are going or what to expect. I use transition objects in a variety of ways. For one student, we have a pull-up and bathroom picture symbol by the door. The student removes the pull-up from the board and carries it to the bathroom with him when it is time to transition from the classroom to the bathroom.

2. Duct Tape Lines and Boundaries
My students struggle with boundaries and space. When lining up, students stand on a line of duct tape. This visual is great because it shows them the exact space they should be in.

3. Schedules
Everyone in sped. knows that schedules are crucial if you don't want pure chaos and tantrums. I have a picture symbol schedule posted for all students to see and use. A few students also have individual schedules that are set up on First/Then boards.

Note: If your students don't comprehend or understand picture symbols yet, use a picture (photos) or object schedule like these. I use picture symbol schedules because they're easy and my students who really need schedules are at the point that they fully understand and respond to picture symbols.
4. Communication Visuals
I have a few kiddos are reluctant to talk without verbal prompting. In my eyes, when a student is requesting help, a verbal prompt from a teacher is much more intrusive than a visual prompt. One of my students NEVER asks for help to open food/drink items during snack time... We are constantly asking him, "What do you need?" to prompt him to ask for help, which gets incredibly tiring and frustrating. Now he has a "help button" that is simply a picture symbol that says, "help" to remind him to use his words when he needs help.

5. Technology Center Visuals
Our students LOVE LOVE LOVE technology. They get so excited when the iPads are out that they can't contain themselves. We have two visuals in our technology center that help to manage the chaos... First, we have pieces of tape down the table to separate students' space. Each student knows that they have to keep their iPad in their square, and that they aren't allowed to touch an iPad that isn't in their square. We also have "wait" and "my turn" cards. Students who have the iPad get a "my turn" card to keep in their square on the table, while the other students' pictures are posted under a "wait" picture symbol on the board at the technology center.

Do you use any visuals in your classroom that are completely crucial to your classroom? I'd love to hear about them because I'm always looking for ways to make our day go smoother!
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