Meet Me

Hi all! I'm a self-contained special education teacher from sunny Arizona! I teach k-3rd grade students with Down Syndrome, Developmental Delays, Cerebral Palsy and everything in between. I have a passion for organization, lists, and creating hands on activities for my learners!

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Summer Sped Blog Hop Week 1: 8 Steps to Schedule Sanity

Welcome to the first post in the 6 week Back To School series for Special Education! This week is all about scheduling. Scheduling in the special ed classroom can be seriously tricky. Special Ed classrooms typically need to fit in reading, math, and other standard academics as well as social skills, life skills, physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, and a million other things. Having a consistent and efficient schedule is the first step in creating a comfortable learning environment. Sitting down to write a schedule for your special ed classroom can seem like a daunting task, but myself and some other fantastic sped bloggers have put together tips and tricks to help you get started!

The following tips are strategies I use to create a color coded, puzzle worthy schedule in my self-contained cross categorical classroom for students with mild to severe cognitive disabilities. I start with a basic class schedule and then make the master student schedules. 

  1. Academic Essentials- Your schedule is going to have some essential components. Think IEP minutes. You know Student A needs to receive 60 minutes of daily reading instruction. Write that down. Write down all of those essential components for every student. It is going to be a looooooong list, but don't worry.
  2. Permanent Fixtures- Open up a spreadsheet program like Excel. Make a simple spreadsheet that shows time (I use 15 minute intervals) in the rows and student names in the columns. Block out chunks of time for elements that you don't have control over their time. For me, this is things like lunch, Early Release Wednesdays (new this year.... yay!), and specials. My kids go to specials with their grade level and an aide, so, you'll see blocks of time for specials occurring at different times for each student. If your students all go to specials at the same time, I envy you so hard.                                                                                                                          
  3. Moving Must-Haves- These are schedule items that are essential each day, but you have control over their timing. These essentials are going to be different for each class. I teach in a self-contained classroom for young kiddos and the overwhelming majority of my class (10/11) wear diapers and/or having toilet training goals.  So, toileting is a big deal for us and has to be carefully scheduled into each day. Other examples of Moving Must-Haves are recess, choice time, Circle Time/Morning Meeting, or data collections time. Add these items to your schedule next.                                                                                                                                                                                                                           

  4. Groups- Grouping students can seem like a puzzle within the puzzle of scheduling. There are a few different approaches to grouping students. Some teachers group students by abilities like reading levels. Other teachers group students by like goals. And some group students by meshing personalities. All of these approaches have their merits and some work better than other for particular students.  Personally, I like to group students by like goals. My kiddos are young and small groups flow better when we are all working on the same thing. In the event that I have more students with a like goal than I like in a small group, I look to behavior next. Every class has those 2 kids that will kill you if they are in a group together or students who more direct attention in a small group than others. I make the groups on the side of my schedule so that I can easily copy and paste them into time slots. 
  5. Plug It All In- I have a love/hate relationship with this part of schedule writing. It's a giant puzzle and the page starts to fill up which I love, then 10 minutes in, my brain hurts and I need chocolate to keep going. I have a feeling I'm not alone on this one. So, I write down all of the academic components I want to hit each day- math groups, workshop, phonics groups, teacher table, etc. Then I assign a time limit for each item. We do math groups for 30 minutes, but teacher table is only 15 minutes. I try to do them time blocks that are factors of the time interval on my spreadsheet. Trust me, it works out much pretty this way. Start plugging in your groups                                    
  6. Color-Coding- The fun part, making it pretty. Color coding the schedule serves more purpose than aesthetics. I assign a color to each adult in the room and a color for when all are involved. Next,, fill in the box that each adult is responsible for with their color. This can save you from 2 major mistakes, creating more groups that adults in the room or "double-booking" a therapist or para.
  7. Adult Schedules- Next I make schedules for all of the adults in my room. The first week of school is mostly about getting scheduling down for my students and adults, so it is nice to have a little cheat sheet until it becomes routine.
  8. Empty Spaces- You will notice that there are some blank spaces in some areas. I always leave a little wiggle room so that when therapist come to me before school looking for scheduling opportunities, I'm not redoing the schedule each time. Granted as pretty as the schedule looks, I know that it will change. Things happen, but having a solid starting point makes the tweaking later MUCH easier and less stressful for you and everyone involved. Check back next week for tips on setting up your classrooms!

How do you piece together your schedule puzzle? Click on the link below to continue on the hop and get some more scheduling tips from fellow sped bloggers!

Breezy Special Ed

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

One Lovely Blog Award

Thank you so much to Lisa from All Things Special Ed for nominating me for the One Lovely Blog Award! I'm super new to blogging and it's crazy that she would even think of me! I felt totally unprepared for my first year of teaching despite having a great student teaching experience. The Special Education teachers that I found through blogging totally saved me and gave me confidence. I am truly grateful for the ideas, products, and insight I have found! Hopefully I can one day be helpful for a new special education teacher.

According to the award rules, I am now supposed to tell you 7 things about me. Here goes!

1. I live in Arizona about 45 minutes east of Phoenix.
2. I teach in a self-contained class for kiddos with a wide array of disabilities. I have kids with mild, moderate, to severe/profound disabilities. The wide range can be challenging sometimes, but I love that it really pushes me to be creative!
3. If I weren't a teacher, I would probably be a nurse. I secretly want to be a Midwife :)
4. I am getting my Masters in Applied Behavior Analysis and will go for my BCBA.
5. I dream of opening a therapy and education center for for kiddos with developmental disabilities.
6. I love to cook, but hate following recipes. My great little family will always taste my creations even though I am definitely not successful every time! 
7.  I need to make more time for creating projects and blogging, but it's a struggle to stay up past 10 haha. 

I want to nominate blogs that helped me develop a (mostly) successful classroom:

Friday, June 12, 2015

Morning Workbooks

I have really struggled with finding age AND skill appropriate morning work for my kiddos. My students aren't writing yet, so worksheets are out. (Honestly, I have never used worksheets in my class. I just don't feel like they work for my kiddos.) We've tried a few different things like puzzles and work tasks, but I would like something a little more skills based. I chose to make Morning Workbook Binders for my students who are able to use this type of system and Morning Tasks for my kiddos working on my eye-gaze and gross motor skills. The skills included are skills that they have been working on, but may not be mastered yet or mastered skills that work on independence.

My workbooks break down into 5 basic categories (1 student has 6... he's learning to READ!!):
1. Name- These pages focus on reading their name, tracing their name, and then spelling their name by matching letter tiles. The more advanced page gives students the letter tiles, but they spell it independently.

2. Letters- Students match uppercase to uppercase, lowercase to lowercase, or upper to lowercase. I change out the pages as their skills develop.

3. Numbers- Students match number 1-10 and then trace 1-10. On the more advanced page, students match a number to a quantity as well as tracing.

4. Colors- Students start by sorting/matching red, blue, green, and yellow circles to 4 large corresponding color squares. When the students match this skill, we will move on to the student matching the same colored circles to the color word. The word is printed in it's corresponding color. Finally, when this skill is mastered, the student will match the colored circles to the color word printed in black and white.

5. Calendar- Students will match the Today Is, Yesterday Was, Tomorrow Is, Month, and Season. The correct answers are listed on the board and are changed by the Calendar Helper.

6. Lastly, Sight Words- This one really excites me. One particular rockstar student of mine came to me last year knowing 4 letters- all uppercase. By March, he knew all 52 letters by name and sound with about 90% accuracy! He is such a hard worker and I can't wait to see what he can accomplish this upcoming year! This page starts with students simply matching the sight words that we will focus on during reading instruction time.

These will be used first thing in the morning. The students come in, unpack and then get to work. My paras walk around assisting students as they need it, but the goal is independence. This gives me time to take attendance, take data, or take care of little things.

Do you use Morning Work?

Thursday, June 4, 2015

How I'm Stepping Up My Mom/Housekeeper Game This Summer

I'll put it out there--- I am NOT a good housekeeper. I am always playing catch-up with my chores instead of staying ahead of the eight ball. I am forgetful. I NEED HELP.

What motivated me to make a change? My daughter has her dance recital on Saturday. (She's only 2.5 so she could care less, but it will be a cuteness overload). Her dress rehearsal was last Wednesday- a whole week and a half before the performance. Does the teacher really think a group of 2-3 year olds will remember a routine after 10 ten with no practice? Anyway, I digress... Tuesday roles around and the peanut and I go to the dancewear store to pick up the very specific shade of tights she needs for the recital. A day AHEAD of schedule. Check me out. Now, it's Wednesday night. The peanut is getting her bath and getting ready for bed.      Wait.       Wasn't there something I was supposed to do today? OH CRAP!! No, we did not make it to the rehearsal. Why? I forgot it. I always forget. I blame it on my thyroid disorder, but that's another story.  I immediately text her dance teacher and apologize up and down. She promised that it was okay, but I felt terrible. I immediately knew that I had to get a handle on my home life. 

The next morning I set out to get this business organized and like any good teacher would do, I made lists. Multiple lists, a calendar, and a schedule.  I've read that it takes 27 or something days for something to become a habit, so I'm getting starting now. When school is back in session, it should be engrained in my routine. Fingers crossed. Here's what I came up with:

  1.  Calendars-- I finally got one of those big family calendars that I publicly mocked but silently envied on pinterest. It's hanging in our kitchen and it. is. huge. Don't worry, the recital is on there in bright red, bold letters. I included all of the due dates for our monthly bills, too.
  2. Cleaning Schedule-- Seriously, I hate the thought of having a cleaning schedule, but I need something to keep me accountable. I am finding that I really like knowing that everything will get done. It kinda takes the pressure off. I created 3 schedules:
    1. Daily schedule: Dishes, Kitchen Counters, 10- Minute Tidy Up
    2. Saturday: Daily tasks, Laundry, Sweep/Mop
    3. Sunday: Daily tasks, bathrooms, vacuum, dust
  3. I'm entertaining the idea of a monthly or deep cleaning schedule too, but let's not get ahead of ourselves here.
  4. Meal Planning-- We've been meal planning since March when we decided to take the Gluten Free plunge. I LOOOOVE meal planning. Something about it makes me feel so productive. And, let me tell you, it makes grocery shopping with a toddler so much easier. We get in and out of the store fast, my aimless wandering of the aisles and gross overspending has greatly decreased.  Another plus is that it gets rid of the "what's for dinner?" question from the hubs every night. Read the fancy calendar, man!

So, friends, this is my goal for the summer. Get my house in tip top shape. Do you have any non-school goals this summer?

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Task Boxes- Not Only For Autism

I am a special educator who uses task boxes, but I do not teach in an Autism-specific classroom. My class is cross-categorical and my students have a variety of disabilities, but the majority of my kiddos have Down Syndrome or similar developmental disabilities. A simple online search can get you a huge amount of resources for students with Autism. Finding educational resources specifically for students with Down Syndrome is not always as simple. I usually spend my hours combing through some awesome Autism resources and find gems that I can use with my kiddos.  My favorite thing about using resources for students with Autism in my class is that they focus heavily on building independence skills. Building independence skills has to be one of our top goals for our students. Some of my most treasured finds are the leveled work books from The Autism Helper and the social stories from Simple Special Ed. In an effort to build independence skills in my kiddos, I implemented another Autism classic- the TEACCH task box. My students LOVE LOVE LOVE them! I've started them off with simple fine motor skills, put-in tasks, and assembly tasks. Slowly I've moved my more advanced students to more academic tasks that they have previously mastered.
Getting started was really difficulty for everyone involved- myself, my paras, and my students. My students are mostly kindergarteners (my class is k-3) and are still young. Being so young, they don't have tons of experience completing things by themselves. Training them to complete a task start to finish in one sitting was difficult. In the beginning, there was a lot of wandering, misusing materials, just plain sitting. I found that it took A LOT more reteaching of the concept that I thought it would. When students would leave the work station, I would bring them back, show them the visuals and then step back to see if they needed more direction. It took us a solid 9 weeks to get in the groove, but they are really getting the hang of it. I have loved seeing them become more independent and the best part is that the skills are totally translating to other parts of our day. I notice that some students are needing less help in the cafeteria or bathroom. Their attention spans are slowly increasing during small groups and I really feel like they are happier during work time.

Long story short.... try task boxes. Think outside the "this is an Autism strategy" box. Our job is to foster independence and this has been my most successful way to accomplish that.