Sunday, January 14, 2018

An Open Letter to Teachers Coping with Death in the Classroom

Let me start by saying I'm not a doctor, psychiatrist, psychologist or a grief counselor... but I've dealt with students passing away numerous times. This is a letter I never wanted or expected to write, but I have something to say to you...

Dear Teacher Coping with Death in the Classroom,

First, I'm sorry that you're reading this. I'm sorry to your student's family, to you, to your student's friends, to your school community, I'm just sorry. I know that this is probably one of the most painful things a teacher and school community can go through. Although I'm not a mental health professional, I want to tell you few things....

It's okay to not want to talk about it while at work.
Don't get me wrong, you will need to talk about it, but for me, there is a time and a place to talk about a student's death... I don't want to talk about it when any students are around or honestly with people at work who I'm not close with. In the past, I've politely asked my administration to let my colleagues know to not bring it up or speak with me about it while students are in the building. I know that my colleagues mean well in asking how I am doing, but I just can't bare to choke back the tears while standing in the hallway or cafeteria.

It's okay to not know how to explain it to your students.
When a student passes away, one of the first few thoughts you might have is, "How am I going to explain this to my class?"  Ask for the support of your administration, school psychologist or grief counselors within your district. Explaining death to any child is tough but it can be even harder when you're explaining it to students with disabilities... You don't have to do this alone!

Taking the student's things away/ down is the one of the hardest parts.
I remember standing in my classroom looking at student's personal belongings numerous times thinking, "What do I do with this?" "When do I take her name tag down?" "What do I do with his art projects?" etc. I felt like if I took these things down right away I wasn't remembering and honoring the student, but these thing were also a painful reminder to look at everyday. One time I had a student (who was non-verbal) bring me a name tag off the desk of a student who had passed away, just days prior, and just handed it to me.... probably trying to communicate, "Where's my friend? I miss my friend." And that, that about broke me.

Celebrating the student's life will help! 
Plant a tree, post their picture on an memorial wall, make a plaque, have a special ceremony, do something to celebrate the student's life! I promise that it will help you, the family and your school community.

As hard as it it, remember that every single day in the classroom matters! Do your best to bring joy and love into your students' lives! Spend a little extra time outside when it's warm and sunny, read an extra story to them, spend an extra 10 minutes during centers in the afternoon, give them a hug or a high five every day before they go home, and hang in there, my friend!

A Fellow Mourning Teacher

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

3 Tips for Writing IEP Goals

Writing IEP goals and objectives can be daunting, especially your first few years of teaching or if you have the same kids for many years. I want to share a few of my favorite tips for writing goals and objectives that should help you throughout the process!

1) Make goals functional and real-world!

I understand that the common core and academics are important, but for many of our kiddos with  moderate to severe disabilities, functional/ life skills and communication skills are even more important because they will give students the platform to start learning those academic skills.

I suggest using the VB-MAPP or ABLLS (or some other assessment that includes language abilities) to assess students skills and then use the results to determine what skills students should start working on next. If you don't use the VB-MAPP or ABLLS in your school/ district already, this is a great free resources that includes important skills for tacting, listener responding, visual perceptual skills and matching-to-sample, motor initiation, listener responding by fuction, feature and class, intraverbal skills, and social behavior and social play. You can probably read through the list of skills and determine what your students are already able to do.

It's also great to think about what self-help/ functional skills students aren't able to do independently yet. There are a ton of free checklists out there that can help identify important life skills. This super simple checklist would be great to complete with parents to identify what self-care skills you could work on at school that would also help families at home.

2) Make sure goals and objectives are measurable and make a plan for data collection before you finalize the goal!

Goals absolutely have to be measurable or taking data will be next to impossible! Make sure the goals are concrete and would make sense to anyone who reads the goal. I like to have my therapists read the goals I'm suggesting to get their opinions if it's concrete/ clear enough. Something I also do that helps to ensure that the goal is measurable is I think about how I will take data on the goal before I finalize the goal. I'll typically make the data sheets for new IEP goals before I lock/ finalize the IEP just in case I need to tweak the writing at all.

It's also important to think about percentages and ratios when writing goals/ objectives. For example, if you're writing a goal for a student to read 10 sight words, don't write that they will do it 85% accuracy, because that isn't possible! ;)  I know that sounds like common sense, but I've received many IEPs with goals that have percentages and ratios that don't make any sense!

3) Don't just use objectives as a way to show progress/ growth... Use objectives as a way to differentiate and scaffold the task! 

It's common to use objectives as a way to show progress; for example, by having objective 1 say that a student will do the skill with 40% accuracy, then objective 2 would be 60% accuracy and objective 3 would be 80% accuracy. However, it's also great to use objectives as a way to differentiate the task! I love to use objectives to differentiate/ scaffold the task noting that the student will be given visuals, color-coding, etc.
This objective involves picture support for student to complete the task.

This objective involves color-coding support for student to complete the task. 

This objective is the last objective and aligns to the end goal!

If you need some IEP goal/ objective ideas, check out my free goal bank here! Do you have an IEP goal writing tips you want to share? Leave them in the comments!

Sunday, December 31, 2017

FREE Editable Adapted Book Templates

Something that I think is SO important is building the competence and skills of fellow teachers. A great skill to have is the ability to make interactive and adapted books (and really any other classroom materials)! When it comes to interactive/ adapted books, you basically only have a few options... adapting hard copies of books in print, buying printable adapted books or making your own books! I love to make my own books so that they meet the exact needs of my students and classroom curriculum/plan. I want to share the Powerpoint templates I've made to make adapted books.

The templates are super easy to use- all you do is click to edit the text and then copy and paste pictures/clipart. I use a variety of clipart websites  and google images. I promise that once you get the hang of Powerpoint and the template, it's super quick to make a book! I can make a book now in about 10-15 minutes (as long as I'm able to find the pictures and clipart I'm looking for).

I totally understand if you still want to buy adapted books on TpT to save time, but making your own books will allow you to make very specific books to meet your curriculum needs or individual needs of specific students!
This book template is for an interactive and half size book (a vertical piece of paper cut in half) and includes a template for matching cards and comprehension questions.

This book template is for an interactive and half size book (a horizontal piece of paper cut in half) and includes a template for matching cards. 

These book templates are for full size adapted books (there is a vertical and horizontal template) and includes a template for matching cards and comprehension questions. I love this template if you're going to use the book on an iPad or with kids with visual impairments. 
Hopefully these help you to make books for your classroom! You can get the free templates from my TpT shop here! Enjoy :)

Note: If you're going to post or share any of the books you make with my template (paid OR free) make sure read my terms of use!

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

MORE Sensory/ Fine Motor Activity Ideas

If you've read my posts about our writing/ fine motor groups, you know that my kiddos do fine motor/ sensory activities every single day! Since we do the activities every day, I have to switch the tubs out pretty regularly to keep the kids from getting bored. I normally switch the fillers about every other month and switch out the actual task every other week.

Here are our latest tubs!
Pom poms with shape sorter 
Macaroni noodles with animal color sorting 

Straws and color sorting

Rice and simple put-in with balls

Noodles with simple put-in with marbles

Paper with simple put in activity from Lake Shore

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Holiday Themed Task Boxes

The last month or so has been CRAZY in our classroom... I had a paraprofessional resign at the end of October and we got a new student last week... So we are officially very understaffed and bursting at the seams with students and their needs. I've basically said goodbye to my lunch and planning period until my administration can figure out a plan to cover my class at these times/ to keep my students safe so I can take a lunch and planning period again. So, needless to say, with all the craziness of the last few months, I haven't had much time to knock out new task boxes. Last week I realized we were still using Halloween task boxes (oops! :-0 ), so I finally made some new December/ holiday themed task boxes!

Check them out!

Color sorting with Christmas bells (from the Dollar Tree).

Color sorting with Christmas colored pom poms.

Simple put in task with large bells (from the Dollar Tree).

Simple put in task with holiday pencil sharpeners (from the Dollar Tree).

A matching task with a board book from the Dollar Tree.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Why you should teach your students to use a structured work system

The ability to work independently is an incredibly important life skill. Not only will this skill help students be successful at school, but it will also help them at home! Just think about it- if a student can work independently at school, it can give the classroom staff time to work 1:1 with other students... if a child can work independently at home, then the parents will be able to have time to cook dinner, take a shower or get some chores done. Most kids need structures and routines in place to be able to work independently, and this is especially true for kids with disabilities. 

A wonderful way to teach kids to work independently is by using a structured work system. Structured work systems are a huge component of the Structured Teaching Framework that was developed by TEACCH (Treatment and Education of Autistic and related Communication Handicapped Children) at the University of North Carolina. According to TEACCH, a structured work system is a systematic means of presenting information in a way that is received and understood by the individual and the goal of the system is to promote independence. I truly believe in structured independent work, so the moment my students enter my classroom (sometimes as young as 5 years old), I start to teach them a structured work system. If you want to learn more about structured work systems, this is a great handout

Why we do it: 

If you're still not sold on spending the time to teach kiddos an independent/ structured work system, here are my main "selling points" when I tell teachers why independent work is so important:
  • It's a GREAT skill for students to have when your classroom is understaffed! Being understaffed is going to happen in any classroom... people get sick, people go out of town, people quit, it's just going to happen! Having students with the ability to work independently is awesome for when you're understaffed because you can easily have a few students work independently when you and/or your paraprofessionals work with small groups or work 1:1  with students. I recently had a paraprofessional resign, so now during math centers I have a student using a structured work system to complete centers independently since I don't have enough staff to supervise each center. 
  • Having students work independently can also give you time to train, debrief and meet with paraprofessionals! Special ed paraprofessionals often have the same reporting times as students, which leaves little to no time for paras and teachers to meet together during the day. I've used time when students are working independently as time to train my paras on behavior plans, running literacy groups, to touch base about how time in general ed is going, etc. It might not give you an hour to sit down to  do an intensive training with paras, but every 15-20 minute chunk of time that you can spend collaborating with paras is going to be helpful!
  • You're going to look like a champ when administration or other staff come into your classroom and students are engaged and working independently! 
How we do it: 
I don't strictly use the TEACCH independent work system, I've taken parts and pieces of this system and created individualized systems that work for my students. I've basically incorporated pieces from a variety structured work systems to create systems that work for each individual kiddo in my classroom. 
  • We spend time teaching only 1-2 students the system at a time. I started focusing on teaching the system to a few students at a time and once they started to get the independent work system down, then we started teaching the system to another 1-2 students. 
  • We provide structure to students however they need it! Students should have a work space where they aren't going to be distracted by other students, staff or materials. I like to have independent work areas a little blocked off with furniture, walls and/or room dividers. Most students will need the structure of a schedule during independent work, but it's not necessary for every student. 

  • Since my students have a wide range of physical and intellectual disabilities, we have to differentiate independent work systems for each kiddo's individual needs. For example, I have students who aren't able to independently maneuver their wheelchairs yet, so I don't expect the students to retrieve their work boxes/ carry the boxes across the classroom. I also have students who are unable to match simple picture/ number/ shape/ color cards between the schedule and the work boxes, so these students don't have specific schedules to follow yet. In these situations, students have their work boxes on their desks/ table and simply use a "left to right" work system format instead of using the matching work system. If you want to read about the different ways I differentiate work systems, check out this post
    • Here are the rules/ expectations we have for independent work:
      • Students always work from left to right.
      • All work is at students independent level (this is IMPERATIVE!)
      • Students have a bucket/ shelf to put completed work in/on. 
      • Staff stick to using gestural prompts, modeling and physical prompts (because they're easier to fade than verbal prompts).
      • Students do NOT take their work apart.
      • Staff don't take the work apart in front of students.
      • Students get a reward/ reinforcer when they are done completing the work.
  • Here are a few examples of the different work spaces we have in our classroom

Happy independence!  :)