Wednesday, September 20, 2017

4 Ways to Build Positive Relationships with Paraprofessionals

The relationships between a teacher and paraprofessionals can make or break a classroom. Many teachers literally spend more time with their classroom staff than they do with their family and those relationships directly impact the kiddos, so having positive relationships within the classroom is so important!

Don't get me wrong, I haven't always had it perfect with my paraprofessionals... I've had paras quit mid-year, I've had paras cuss and yell at me because they didn't agree with me, I've handled situations in ways I probably shouldn't have, I've dreading going to work because of a negative relationship with a para... Trust me, I've been there... but the only thing we can do is learn from our mistakes and continue to work on building POSITIVE RELATIONSHIPS with our paraprofessionals! Here are a few of my favorite ways to build positive relationships with my classroom team:



1) Weekly/ monthly treats
I know that we aren't rolling in money as teachers, but spending a few bucks on your paras once a week or once a month will go a long way!  At the beginning of every year, I have my paras fill out little surveys about their interests and likes. Then I stock up on some of their favorite things and keep them stashed in our classroom for anytime someone might need a pick-me-up! I try to get little treats for my paras once a week or every other week. You don't have to spend a ton of money, treats can be as simple/ cheap as a pack of gum, chapstick, a muffin, etc. You can grab a free likes/interests survey from my TpT to learn more about your paras. If you want free cute gift tags, you can download a few here



2) Include paras in important classroom decisions and ask for their input
I try to include my paras in a variety of classroom decisions. When it comes to scheduling, I try to give my paras input where I can- for example, my paras have the opportunity to decide at the beginning of the year if they want a 45 minute lunch or a 30 minute lunch and a 15 minute break. I also work with my paras to make a schedule that's fair for scheduling general ed specials. We also sit down as a classroom team and look at all the general ed field trips for the year and work together to plan out what staff are going on what trip based on their interests. I also pay attention to what lessons/ activities my paras enjoy in the classroom and try to build off of that. One year I had a para who LOVED art, so I let her take the lead and plan an art activity once a week. She really liked having the opportunity to be creative and plan a fun part of the week and it helped me to not have to plan the activity. Since classroom paras often don't have the opportunity to attend IEP meetings, I get their input before hand by having them write a little note about what they love about the kiddo. Parents always love when I share the positive note from paras in IEP meetings.


3) Give paras praise and coach them!
Training and coaching paras can be hard, especially for new teachers who are often young! During my first few years of teaching, I had paras who had been in the classroom longer than I had been alive and that was intimating! When it comes to training and coaching paras, make sure you give them PRAISE as you coach them. Just like with our students, give them positive praise every time you're giving them some kind of feedback/ thing to work on. Something I recently started doing was writing praise on stickies and putting it in my para's personal space to remind them that they are AWESOME!


4) Make it a point to share the load
I'm a firm believer that I shouldn't expect my paras to do anything I wouldn't do... So, I change multiple diapers on a daily basis, I do g-tubes daily, I lift and transfer students in and out of equipment, I wipe down tables, etc... I literally do everything I expect my paras to do. For me, this has gone a long way in showing my paras that we are a team and I'm in this with them! Another good idea is to make a rotating schedule for any classroom tasks that staff dislike (like working with a specific student, cleaning toys, going to a weekly therapy group, etc.). This helps to make sure everyone is sharing the responsibility and also getting a break.


How do you build positive relationships with your paras? I always love to hear new and fun ideas!

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

DIY Cheap & Easy Classroom Divider

I don't know a teacher who doesn't have at least one student who gets super distracted by things around the classroom. Room dividers are a popular way to block off areas in classrooms. I use room dividers to create spaces for rest time/ sensory breaks and to create spaces for independent work stations. I had a large metal room divider that was super heavy and bulky and honestly not very safe, so I made this super easy PVC pipe room divider!



Supplies:
  • 25 feet PVC pipe, I used 1 inch (the amount of pipe you will need depends on how high and how wide you want your divider)
  • 2 PVC pipe 90 degree elbows (in the same size as PVC pipe)
  • 4 PVC pipe tees (in same size)
  • 4 PVC pipe caps (in same size, if desired. Just attached to end of feet)
  • PVC pipe cutters
  • PVC pipe cement (if desired)
  • Measuring tape
  • Curtain with a rod pocket and sewing supplies
    • Note: Make sure you get a curtain that is tall enough and wide enough for the size of the stand you want. I found a single panel at Target that is 54 inches wide and 84 inches long. 
  • Spray paint (if desired)
  • Velcro (if desired)
  • Note: I purchased all of the supplies at Home Depot but you could find the stuff at Lowe's or another home supply store. All of the PVC pipe cost $19, you can get a cutter for about $10 and the cement is about $5.
Directions:
  • Start by cutting your PVC pipe. Here are the dimensions I cut (my stand is 4.5 feet tall and 5 feet wide) 
    • (2) 4 feet pieces (these pieces are for the sides)
    • (2) 5 inch pieces (these pieces are for the sides)
    • (2) 5 feet pieces  (these pieces are for middle bars)
    • (4) 10 inch pieces (these pieces are for the legs)
  • Start connecting your stand (reference the picture)

  • Spray paint, if desired.
  • Hang the curtain on the top middle piece of the stand (just put the middle piece through the curtain pocket).  Then measure where you need the pocket on the bottom part of the curtain. Mark where you need the second pocket, remove the curtain from the stand, iron the crease and then sew a straight line to create the pocket. You can use a sewing machine, sew by hand or use hemming tape and an iron. I just hand sewed it because it was quick and easy. 


  • Put the curtain on both of the middle pieces of the stand and you're done! 
  • If you want, you can use PVC pipe cement to attach pieces of your stand together to make it sturdier... but make sure you do this in your classroom if you don't have a car big enough for the stand! I cemented all of the pieces of my stand except the middle bars/ pieces so I can easily move the stand if I ever need to. 
  • I also attached rough Velcro to the bottom of the room divider to make it stick to the carpet. 

Let me know if any of this tutorial doesn't make sense and I can clarify! Good luck!

Monday, September 11, 2017

4 Tips for running Literacy Groups in a Special Ed Classroom

Literacy is one of my favorite times of the school day! I want to share 4 of my favorite tips that help to make  literacy groups fun, engaging and meaningful in my special needs classroom.


1) Run literacy in small groups and utilize paraprofessionals!
Literacy buckets for each  group with name tags on buckets. All literacy materials are in buckets. 
We teach literacy in small groups (2-3 kiddos per teacher/ para). We have a bucket for each group and have all of the literacy materials in the bucket (book, phonics materials, data sheets, etc.). I also have paras run literacy groups. No, I don't see every group every day... I make sure that I switch what group I work with each day but I trust that my paras can run quality literacy groups. I teach my paras how I want literacy groups to be done and they're AMAZING at it. I can literally watch them teach a literacy group and I rarely have anything I would do differently if I was teaching the lesson. Utilizing paras to run groups gives you more bang for you buck during literacy groups!

If you want to read more about how we run literacy groups and what specific tasks we do, you can check out this post.

2) Use manipulatives & hands-on activities

To keep kids engaged during literacy activities, I suggest using a variety of manipualtives and hands-on activities based on students' needs/ abilities . During the book portion of reading, I make sure to have real objects, puppets, picture cards, etc. for kiddos to interact with while we are reading and during phonics I love to use the letter sound tubs from Lakeshore.

3) Take data & make cheat sheets for paraprofessionals
A data clipboard and data sheet for a student. The clipboard is kept in the literacy bucket.

Cheat sheet/ lesson plan for paras. This lesson plan template is part of this bundle on my TpT.
I like to keep our data clipboard/ data sheets for literacy inside our literacy buckets. I noticed that we often forget to grab data clipboards before we sat down for literacy groups so we sometimes just wouldn't take data. Keeping a literacy data clipboard inside the literacy bucket ensures that the data sheet is ALWAYS there and makes it easy to take data every. single. day during literacy. I also make cheat sheets/ simple lesson plans for my paras that include specifics about what each kiddo should be working on and what supports they need.

4) Use independent work activities so you can get some 1:1 time in
Simple sorting independent work activity. You can get it for FREE here.
Another great idea is to throw some literacy based independent work activities into your literacy groups. With one of my groups, I have student #1 complete 1-3 activities independently when I am doing sight words and taking data for student #2. Then I switch and have student #2 do a few independent work activities while I do sight words/ beginning letter sounds with student #1. This is super helpful if you have to do literacy in small groups but you still have kiddos who need a little 1:1 instruction during this time.

Please leave any questions or suggestions around literacy groups that you have in the comments!

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Writing/ Fine Motor/ Sensory Groups in a Special Ed Classroom

Writing is something that many of my students are NOT a fan of... so I had to be creative and find a way to get my students to practice writing and fine motor skills. After many changes over the years, I've finally found a system that is working for my kiddos for writing/ fine motor groups.


Our writing/ fine motor lessons are done in small groups (2 kiddos in a group with a teacher/ para) and are done daily for 15-20 minutes. We do two different activities during our writing/ fine motor time: writing portfolios and fine motor/ sensory tubs. We always do the writing portfolio FIRST and THEN do the sensory/ fine motor activity because most of my students are motivated by the sensory activity, so using the good ole Premack Principle is a great way to get our kiddos to write!

Writing portfolios:
Our writing portfolios are very differentiated due to the variety of levels in my classroom. Some students are working on touching texturized letters, some are using a Brailler, some are tracing, and some are copying letters, shapes, etc. Each portfolio has a tab for every day of the week and we work on a different skill each day. On Monday, we work on writing names, on Tuesday we write letters, on Wednesday we write numbers, on Thursdays we write shapes/ pre-writing strokes and on Friday we have fun tracing activities. Having tabs for the days of the week is a great way to promote generalization of writing skills and to keep kids from getting bored.



Here area a few examples of our writing portfolios:

Writing portfolio with textures and Braille for students who have visual impairments and limited ability to hold writing utensils. 

Writing portfolio for students working on tracing and pre-writing strokes.

Higher level writing portfolio for students working on tracing and coping shapes, letters, etc.
If you need some free tracing sheets for portfolios, you can grab some from my TpT here.

Fine motor tubs:
After we do our writing portfolios, every student completes a fine motor/ sensory tub. The tubs are also differentiated and include simple sensory activities when students explore objects in sand, noodles, beans, etc., put-in tasks with sensory materials, sorting sensory activities, and much more!

We use name tags to label what tub each student will complete for the day.

Examples of our sensory/ fine motor tubs. 

If you want more fine motor/ sensory activity ideas, check out these posts:
Sensory/ Fine Motor Activities
Making Sensory Play Academic
Making Sensory Play Academic 2.0
Simple Fine Motor/ Sensory Activities 

How do you run writing/ fine motor groups in your classroom?

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Adapting Books for a Variety of Levels in Special Education

Most classrooms have a wide variety of skills/ levels when it comes to literacy... And adapting materials for those variety of levels/ needs can be really tricky! As a severe-needs teacher, I have a VERY wide range of abilities and needs in my classroom. The range of literacy abilities of my kiddos goes from working on interacting with literacy materials and engaging with reading materials to reading CVC and sight words. Despite the wide range of needs in my classroom, I've been able to find ways to adapt one book/ lesson to fit all of the needs of my students.




I do reading in small groups (2 kids per group) and I group kids based on similar IEP goals and levels.  I differentiate all the books so they are accessible and appropriate for the below three levels/ abilities:
Level 1 books: Have textures and real objects
Level 2 books:  Have materials for matching pictures
Level 3: Have materials for matching pictures, answering yes/no questions and comprehension questions with a board

This little chart further explains what kiddos in each level are working on:

Now here are some examples of books that we've adapted for a variety of levels:



Note: Don't worry, I don't call the groups "level 1, 2, 3" or anything like that in the classroom! The kids aren't told their level or anything, I just labeled the levels as a reference for this blog post to show the differentiation!


Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Sensory/ Fine Motor Activities

If you follow my blog, you know I love incorporating academics and fine motor tasks into our sensory time. We do fine motor/ sensory activities every morning after we do a short writing activity.


Here are our latest sensory/ fine motor activities:
Save the animals from the grass and put them in the container! (Our theme for the week is mammals.)

Remove the puzzle pieces and build the puzzle.

Sorting by bears and unifix cubes.

Put the buttons in the container.

Put the gems in the container.

Color sorting pom poms.
If  you want more fine motor/ sensory activity ideas, check out this post with tons of ideas for making sensory play academic, or this post with math themed sensory/ fine motor activities, or this post with super simple put-in fine motor/ sensory activities.