Sunday, November 15, 2015

New Schedules

I have 3 new students this year that have very limited academic skills, are low, or not verbal, and/or have many behavioral issues (aggression, running, screaming, yelling and growling, hitting, hair pulling, biting, pinching, kicking, spitting, masturbation, clearing surfaces, throwing things, etc).

The schedule I originally had in place was just not going to work for these three. They are unable to sit in group settings and participate, they can't read, or have low to no academic abilities, poor fine motor skills, and they have very limited abilities to communicate anything. In addition, these 3 need one to one help and I just don't have that support in place yet.

It's a fine balance in creating a schedule that works for a group of students that can read and write and need direct instruction in these content areas, as well as science and social studies, can participate in groups, and can work independently (mostly), and students that cannot do these things and need  a dedicated work space and schedule, and very simple tasks. I have had to go through several changes to my schedule to accommodate these needs and my current lack of sufficient adult support.

This is the schedule I put together before school started. The color coding is for the adults, for example, I am yellow, so that we can tell at a glance which students we are working with, what class period, and what we are doing. I do put together a more detailed schedule of exactly what the Paras are doing with these students, etc. Each column is a student. The schedule changes every 15 min or so and students use either a wall schedule or a binder schedule to transition. There are several Para run centers in this schedule (fluency, Binder, Morning meeting).

 This was my second attempt  a schedule. We got a temporary 1:1 for a student and I added her to the mix. She is the one in Pink. This lasted for 1 day.

This is the current schedule. We went through several iterations of this. But we had a few students with too many needs and not enough help to do a lot of stations. The students that are able, have to do a lot of independent work throughout the day. My students that need more support, are in designated areas and work on a first/then schedule and get frequent breaks and rewards throughout the day. 

So far, this seems to be working. I am still putting together their designated areas and more appropriate tasks, because there is limited time in a day and I am only one person. I hope to have it all up and running smoothly shortly.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Behavior + freebie

We are well into our school year  and I am just now starting to recover. It's interesting how 3 new students can totally change everything, from classroom set up, to schedules, to what I am teaching, and to how much I interact with students. I also didn't fully appreciate the last two wonderful years I had in the same classroom.

Last June, I had 3 students move onto high school. Two were very high functioning, and one was my lowest student academically at that time. All 3 had minor behaviors at best, typical of students with autism. I have 3 new students to replace them and all three are lower functioning than my previous student, plus they have other challenges such as aggressive behavior, elopement issues, and no functioning communication. Their current IEPs did not adequately share their challenges (like not having  FBAs or Behavior support plans), so I have had to scramble to put things in place.

After a disastrous first day, I had my Paras start tracking multiple behaviors for each of them, as well as doing ABC tracking, and I was able to put a few things in place. Here are pics of the forms I used.

 It's so easy to put the the letter down versus writing everything. It's just a faster way to track this. Not sure where I got this form, otherwise I would share it.

  I typically use this form for anything from 1-3 behaviors. I have another one for more behaviors than that. I write specifics down so that everyone is clear on what they are tallying. You can get a copy of this form here.


I tracked the behaviors using excel, tracked all of the interventions I tried, as well as a narrative for each student, and then submitted it to the district in order to get more adult support in the classroom. I did receive one long term sub for one of my students due to aggression towards peers on multiple occasions.

 Here is one example of the behaviors I am tracking. I lumped a couple together since they occur at the same time

 Here is what this behavior looks like in graph form.

 Here are some of the interventions I have tried for this student. His main motivation is for sensory input so those are the bulk of the interventions I have tried. The list is longer than what you see here. All of them work, but only for a short amount of time. I am next going to put him on a  varied sensory diet all day long so we will see how that works.

Here is the behavior for another student. The interventions for him have been pretty successful, with the exception of when his 1:1 support person goes to lunch, so I am playing around with that. We tried putting in a male person, but the result was the same. Next up is to change the lunch time of his 1:1 from afternoon to morning, which changes all of our schedules (sigh), but he is calmer in the morning, so it makes sense that this might help.

 These interventions have worked fairly well for this student, but as in everything, we keep trying to improve.

More to come on this topic in a different post.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Paraprofessional Support +free handbook

Our school year with students was supposed to start on Sept. 9th, instead we went on strike. I was super busy as a Zone and picket captain, and this blog kind of fell by the wayside. However, we are now done with the strike and school started last Thursday the 17th. I was supposed to blog today about changing schedules, but I am not quite ready to do that yet since my school year start has been so chaotic, not just because of the strike, but because my students have been very challenging. We haven't even been able to institute the schedule I put together, much less change it.

This is where my Paras come in. In addition to the sudden end to the strike and school starting, my son got married this past weekend in Oregon, so I took the 2nd and 3rd day of school off. My school procured two subs for me, and I made my Paras responsible for what was happening during the day.

Since it was a planned absence, we were able to talk about it ahead of time. Also, since I had been there the first day, I at least had an idea of my students and their needs and was able to plan a loose schedule for the days I would be gone. It went ok and everyone survived.

I have 9 students this year, and 2 of them have one-to-ones. But I got 3 new additions to my classroom that need one-to-ones (aggression, running, clearing counters and tables, refusal, collapsing, stealing food, etc), plus 1 with mobility issues, and 3 that need a lot of support in  everything they do. 

I thank the lord for my Paras and wish I could clone them. We have had to grow very close, very quickly, in order to get through the day. Communication is vital, as is knowing how  and what to do. I have set up a schedule for the IAs so they know who they are working with each period, as well as what they are doing. I try to rotate my Paras with the students as I don't want them to burn out. I try to make sure they take their breaks for the same reason. I am up front with my expectations at the start of the school year, and give them a handbook, any safety plans, all the IEP at a glances, Behavior Support Plans, the student schedule, the adult schedule, and anything else I feel will help us all be on the same page. I stagger their breaks so no one is overwhelmed in the classroom. I assign stations so that there are fun learning activities for them to do with all of the students. I try to set them up for success, and then trust them to be the professionals they are. I couldn't do my job without them and I am so grateful for their assistance every day.

This is the Paraprofessional  Handbook (In my current district we call Paras Instructional Assistants) I put together for my Paras a couple of years ago. I borrowed liberally from many people online and threw it together. I list my expectations, and some information regarding Autism. I have a few other handouts at the end that deals with other disabilities. I hope this works for you as well.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Rotation Description: Social Skills curriculum map

Since I posted yesterday about social skills, I thought I would share my social skills rotation today.

I teach social skills separately because I believe, besides communication, that these are the most important skills my students need. That's great if a student can read, write, and do math, but if they are hurting others, masturbating in public, are invading other people's personal space, or telling people they are fat, etc  (among many other skills that I have had to work on with my students), then they can't maintain friendships, get a job, or be in public without embarrassment for them or for people they are with. Direct instruction and lots and lots of practice, is the way to go.

In May/June, I don't have anything original planned.  We are sometimes behind in our schedule due to absences, drills, etc, so we are sill working on the same skills. Or I decided to take longer on a particular skill because it was needed. Or something new came up that took priority to focus on. Also, we end up having a lot of changes in our schedules the last month or so due to end of year activities, kids moving up to high school, etc. In addition, I have found that we need to go back and practice some of the skills we learned early on.

I have divided my students into 2 groups. My first group are those students that are low verbal/verbal and can read and write to some extent. The curriculum map as it is written is geared towards them. I use a variety of resources for each week. The rotation is about 15 minutes. I do social stories, social scripts, videos, modeling, and hands on practice, although not all in the same class, just whatever fits well for the topic we are discussing. On my PINTEREST SITE, I have collected a bunch of videos for many different skill areas. I have also collected a bunch of other resources on Pinterest, which you can find HERE, and HERE, and HERE.

My second group are mostly non verbal/low verbal and use communication devices or PECS to communicate. Their skills are at a basic level. I use a lot more social stories and practice for this group and we might skip a lesson that the other group is working on and concentrate more deeply on one topic, or take more time to practice. We will use the communication devices more when working on friendship or communication. But we cover the same monthly topic as the other group.

Having a curriculum map laid out like this makes lesson planning a breeze. I have my monthly and weekly topics so prepping the material and videos ahead of time is a snap.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Social stories + freebie

What exactly are social stories? Social Stories were first written by Carol Gray in 1991 to improve the social skills of people with Autism. They are used to  help teach students expectations, routines, behavioral standards, social interactions, and reinforcement of correct behavior.

I use social stories frequently in my classroom. I use them to:

  • help extinguish certain behaviors, such as staying in your seat on the school bus 
  • introducing new social concepts, such as fire drill expectations in our new school
  • when I want  a student to try something new, such as a new food 
  • for teaching concepts such as time or money 
  • when I want to break something with multiple steps into smaller, more manageable steps.

I use social stories as a main part of my social skills groups. I either write them myself to target specific skills I want to teach or I try to find one online that covers the same topic. Why reinvent the wheel if someone else has put in the effort. Long ago, I figured out that the amount of time it takes to create something myself is wasted (my time is valuable, you see), when for $1 or a little more, I could purchase the same story on TPT in a fraction of the time. Only when I can't find what I need online or on TPT do I actually create it myself.

Here are some resources I have found that are free:   -tons of stories - tons of stories - tons of stories - free and easy to use schedules/social story maker. Has options for several different languages. - here you can make a schedule or a social story with 2 or 4 boxes. Lots of possibilities. many different social stories. Just put social stories in the search engine, or a specific social story topic, and you will find tons of stories, some free and some you have to pay for. 

When using them to reinforce correct behavior, I typically read the social story when the behavior is NOT occurring. I send the story home with the student for the parent to read to their child, we read it during social skills period, and to the targeted child before the event usually occurs, such as before going to breakfast and lunch in the cafeteria for a student who eats trash. But never as the behavior is actually occurring.

The complexity of the stories really depends on the students.  Stories for individual students can be tailor made, from simplistic one page stories with a few words and some pictures, to more complex stories in paragraph or book form with one or two visuals, or without.

When I use them in my social skills class, I usually use a one page simple version with visuals as my students have such different skills. I usually have an interactive version for my non-verbal and or low or non readers. But we also role play and practice so everyone has a chance to participate.

Here are a couple of examples of the complexities of these stories. The first one is a one page story about touching that I use in my social skills group. It's meant to be an introduction to  a lesson. The second one is part of a book that I wrote for one specific student who ate trash and other things he found on the floor. I had to rewrite it several times to address very specific behavior.

Social stories are a mainstay of my social skills curriculum and there is no one way to do them. 

Please go HERE for a Free social story: When My Teacher Is Not At School. It is editable so you can insert your own name or add/delete what will fit your classroom.

So much more could be written on this topic, but I will stop for now. 

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Rotation Descriptions- Binder station

My binder station is an easy set up. It can be both an independent station, as well as supported by an IA. In my classroom, it is both. My students have such a wide range of skills, and even though several are capable, focus is oftentimes an issue. I have one student who will use every opportunity to draw when left to his own devices and not do the actual work for a particular center. There are other places in my classroom where they can practice being independent.

The actual set up is also easy. I have access to free 1 inch white binders at my school. I color code the spines for each group, and print their names on them. I keep them on a bookshelf. Students find their name and grab the binder and sit down at the table.

With a support person there, they can help students, which means it doesn't all have to be known material. Once I teach a concept in Teacher time/DI, I can put extra sheets in their binders for them to practice. The Para can also check work once a student is done with a page, and have them redo problems that were incorrect.

For my binders, I am using a variety of resources. I will be using the Math and Literacy curriculum from the Autism Helper (which you can find in this post). In addition, I have a few binder systems I have purchased from Autism Adventures of Room 83, which you can find in her TPT store HERE.

In addition, I use a few odd worksheets here and there that I have always had, and resources from the internet. These are the ones I use the most:

These are my go-tos for worksheets, but if they don't have what I want, I just google it. In addition to these, I also use TPT as they have hundreds of free resources for many different topics.

Next up is classroom jobs and school jobs.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Rotation descriptions- Fluency station +data sheet freebie

My fluency station is basically a flash card station, although sometimes there are worksheets. This is a station where we work on time and accuracy with known facts. An example of this would be if you showed a student  4 dimes and 2 nickels and asked how much money that was  altogether and they counted each cent separately. Yes, they would eventually arrive at the answer, but how functional is this skill? If you are at the store and the cashier tells you something is 50 cents and you pull out your change, but then have to count each cent individually, it would take forever and they would get upset. That isn't a functional skill. I want students to  see a small handful of change, and be able to  give someone 50 cents within a reasonable time frame if they are asked to do so. And I want them to be this automatic for many skills: money, time, math facts, sight words, colors, shape, numbers, letters, survival words, labeling, etc. This takes time and repetition and that is where this station comes in.

So, I use a variety of flash cards that I have picked up from the dollar store, thrift stores,  garage sales, and anyplace that sells them cheap :). I also purchased this Fluency pack from The Autism Helper.

This has come in handy as everything is already done for you, which is a great deal considering how much time something like that takes to create. I know, because I made a few flash cards myself, and frankly, I'd rather purchase it and have that extra time to play with my dog and maybe drink a margarita.

I also use this set that I got from The Autism Tank.  This has a nice variety of labeling sheets that are easier to administer to non verbal students.

Here is the copy of the data sheet I use .

Next up is  my binder station.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Rotation Descriptions- Independent work (IW) and Life Skills + freebie

Period 2 on  my schedule, see HERE, is also when we do Life Skills and Independent work. Students, in groups of 3, rotate back to the kitchen area with a Para. There we have 3 stations. The first station is in the Hallway, and is working on more pre-vocational  work tasks, such as office skills and packaging tasks. Station 2 is doing laundry, folding laundry, sorting laundry, and hanging clothes up. Station 3 is washing and drying dishes and putting them away, loading and unloading the dishwasher, wiping down counters, putting groceries away, mopping and sweeping the floor. Here are some examples of Life skills work tasks at Station 1. These boxes are in a cabinet and are numbered. They will be changed out monthly. Students take the number, match it to the box, and then put the box away when done.

In station 3, one of the activities we do is put groceries away, or find groceries in the cupboards according to a shopping list.  I sent out an email to our school staff, and asked people to bring in their clean grocery packages/items, such as the ones below. My cupboards are labeled with what is in there (dairy, spices, canned goods, etc) so it's a matter of determining what category something is, and then locating it. This would be for my readers. My non-readers will match a picture to items in one cupboard.

In station 2, we hang laundry up as one of our tasks. I don't have a closet, so I purchased a suspension cord and hung it in the doorway. There are an assortment of clothes to hang up, from shirts, to pants, to dresses, etc. Again, I asked the staff at my school to donate used clothes and they definitely came through for us. We fold the clothes, sort the clothes, do laundry, and put them away.

In my Independent Work (IW) area, the students do work boxes. These are an assortment of tasks from sorting, put ins, puzzles, academic tasks, adapted books, to fine motor tasks, etc. Over the years I have had different systems for this, but this next year the bins will be color coded (within each color there is also a range) so I can see at a glance what a students is working on. The student will grab an icon from their schedule, will match it to the box (there is a velcro spot next to the number where they will put their icon), and then take the box to the table right next to the shelf. When they are done with the box, they will put the box away and get the next icon. The Para whose job it is to  fix these, will know that the boxes with 2 icons are the ones that will need to be undone, thus saving us from having a finished box next to the tables.

Here's a photo of my boxes last year that are both numbered and lettered. Unless I memorized all the boxes and their contents, I wouldn't know what was in them unless I looked. 

That's why I came up with the color coding system that I will use this next year. They are color coded according to category and then numbered, etc., from easy to more challenging. They will be changed out monthly.

You can get this here, if you're interested. Next post is Fluency and binder stations.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Rotation Descriptions- Teacher Time/Direct Instruction (DI)

This is what I will cover during my 2nd period. Please see schedule HERE for more information on what my daily student schedule looks like. I will cover Life skills and IW in my next post.

Teacher Time and Direct Instruction are basically the same thing. I changed up the titles so that the students have a different schedule icon they need to get used to. In this case, Teacher time refers to LA arts instruction. I prefer the more general title instead of LA or Reading because it leaves me free to cover anything that's on the IEP. Most of my students have several LA goals, though, so it's easy to focus on this.

This year I either have students working on very basic concepts, like recognizing their names, or students that can already read and do some basic writing. When I looked at the Autism Helper's new LA curriculum, I was pretty excited as all of it directly corresponded to what  ALL of my students are working on according to their IEPs. SCORE! You can find this here, if you're interested. So that is what I will be starting the school year with. I will include it not only here, but in their binder work, as well. Once I get a feel for the students and their needs, I might change it up a little, but this is it for the first few weeks.

I will also be doing some guided reading, focusing on comprehension. We will take turns reading out loud. We will also do News-2-You, which has some great activities. Fridays will be devoted to writing activities for the higher group. The students in my higher group are working on writing sentences on topic, given a prompt.

My students in the lower group are working on very basic concepts, which the Level 1 curriculum focuses on very well. I will also include this in their binder work. I will also do read alouds for this group, but I will be doing the reading. We'll have a story map with visuals, as well as other activities. This book will be the focus for a couple of days, and I will also include work related to this book in their binders, as well as in their IW boxes.  On Fridays we will be practicing some fine motor skills related to academics. I have a fine motor rotation that will be more art or life skills oriented.

My Direct Instruction rotation is basically Math, but there are a few other goals and objectives that I won't be covering elsewhere that I will cover during this time, or other curriculum to cover the same concepts. As with the reading curriculum, I will be using The Autism Helper's Math Leveled Daily Curriculum and her multiplication curriculum, as well. Again, I was thrilled to see how closely this curriculum followed all of my student's IEP goals related to Math. You can find these HERE and HERE. In addition to these, I will be using a wide range of manipulatives and visuals to complement the curriculum.

Next post will cover Life Skills and Independent Work.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Rotation descriptions- Hygiene/Morning Meeting

I've shared with you my process for deciding what I am going to teach, my schedules and student groupings, and yesterday my classroom layout.

In this post, I will start to describe what I am teaching in these rotations. I will start with Period 1 which is our Morning meeting time, and when the students do Hygiene. I split this into 2 groups. One group needs a little more support to get through hygiene, have lower overall skills, and  have communication devices. The other group is very quick but fairly independent (or I anticipate they will be independent). They are more academic, and can read and write to a degree.

This is middle school so hygiene has to do with using deodorant, brushing their teeth, washing hands and face, and combing, brushing,  or picking their hair out. I have visuals for all of these in the bathroom, right next to the sink. They have gone to the bathroom after breakfast, so this is not the focus of hygiene.

Morning meeting is a Para run station. I am typically checking for family communication, my emails, prepping for the day, etc. Although I am doing those things, I also observe and assist, depending on my workload in the morning, and how the students are doing.

The lower group will work on greetings using their communication devices, as well as answering these visual daily questions that I got from Breezy Special ED. We will then move onto calendar concepts and review what is coming up. I also use a variety of calendar sheets I have gotten online, as well as The Autism Helper's Leveled Daily Work- Levl 1Work. They use daubers or markers or their devices to do the sheets, depending on individual need.

The other group will also work on greetings, and a discussion on what they did the night before, what they ate for breakfast, etc. We will also use these set of questions I got from Lakeshore. One student will be the leader for this and ask the other students. We will discuss more general calendar concepts such as what holidays or special events are coming up, and elapsed time concepts. One student will write the date in words, and another the date in numbers. This group will also use the Autism Helper's Leveled Daily Work, but Level 2. This is a little more complex and was successfully used last year. I would highly recommend all three of these resources!

Next post will be Teacher Time/Direct Instruction.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Classroom floorplan

Yesterday, I went in to help interview for some SPED teaching and Para positions in my building. Afterwards, I went to my room and was grateful to see that they had mostly put furniture back to the way it was last year. Yay for our custodial staff! They work hard in the summertime.

 Once I had figured out what to teach and had done the schedules, it was really easy to  rearrange my furniture to fit the rotations I had decided on.This  will differ each year depending on the needs of my students. I also have to take in consideration how many adults I have in the classroom and whether we have a visual on all of the students when there are only a couple of adults in the classroom.

After a couple hours of work, I had everything arranged. We have a brand new building, which is great! However, I don't think they consulted teachers at all because there is NO built in storage in any classroom. This is why there are so many cabinets and shelves, but they have been perfect to rearrange as dividers for the different areas.

I am lucky enough to have a separate kitchen and bathroom that is attached to my room. I share it with the room on the other side of the kitchen, but because they are a different SPED program, they rarely use it.

The left upper corner is all my area. I know there are some of you that are minimalists out there, but I need that space. That entire wall is windows, which I love, especially in our dark and gray winters. The door to the classroom is on the bottom right.

Once I have arranged some of the work on the shelves a little better, I'll take photos of each area.And there you have it.

Thursday, August 13, 2015


I finally finished my schedules. Phew!! They are not my favorite thing to work on, but so vital. Once they are in place, the rest comes much easier!

This is how I do them. I take my students and look at their goals and objectives, and other important information such as behaviors and communication needs. I always know a few of the kids since I have them for 3 years, so I also consider their personalities. If it's a brand new classroom and new students, you do the best you can with the information you have, and then adjust as the days go by. I will likely make some changes that first week, and then smaller ones later, as we see how the schedule works.

I try to have several variations of groupings, so that I can have solid workable groups of twos, threes and fours.

I plug them into the schedule by periods and color code them by the person who will be working with them during that rotation. The color codes are in the last column. I also put all the adult's lunches on there, too. You can also see these on the right. This way it's easy to see where the adults are going to be throughout the day. I put numbers instead of student's names for the purposes of this blog.

Aside from PE and lunch, my students don't do much inclusion, unless a student has a talent, or is greatly interested in a subject, or is approaching grade level in  a specific area, such as Math, or LA.  I will have 2 students that will be taking art which is not reflected in this schedule but I will make those changes once I see when they are taking it. My program is self-contained, and there are other programs for students who are academically closer to their gen ed peers, but might need more support to be successful.

Finally, I do the adult schedules. Even though they can see where they are going to be each period in the student schedules, the adult schedule provides a little more detail about specifics like setting up schedules. When I do the adult schedule, I try to make sure that adults work with a variety of students and have some down time where they are prepping, or setting up stations. This is to prevent the burn out you can get working with the same students, or constantly going, going, going.

In the next couple of blog posts I will share my Paraprofessional handbook, where I have more information about my program and expectations as well as information about the various disabilities we work with, and then my Curriculum map for the year.