Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Celebrating Easter in an Early Childhood Classroom

For the past few weeks we have added a little challenge to our literacy center. I am a firm believer that students need a combination of structure and novelty. Think about yourself... if you do the same thing every day, you are bound to get a little restless and when students get restless out come the behaviors!

So here is the change. First, we added a small table to the space. 

Next, we added this work system schedule specific for the literacy center. 

It works similarly to the math system I showed you last week. The students read a story at their level from the leveled boxes in the bench seat.

Note: I purchase boxes that are half-sized at home depot so I can easily offer five levels of instruction. (Typically, level one has more interactive materials and requires a larger box for storage.)

The teacher then reads a theme book. The theme book is usually a repetitive story that works on concepts like letters, numbers, colors, shapes, etc. For example, during our healthy choices unit it was a book entitled Healthy Foods from A to Z and during our Valentine's unit it was 10 Little Valentines.

These are all stories I make on Boardmaker and have posted on Boardmaker Share. The reason they are Boardmaker stories is because after the students read the theme book each day, they have the opportunity to make one page in the story as a mini book.  This allows the student to have the whole concept book to take home and share with his/her family at the end of the unit.

You may be asking, "Wow, how do you manage that!?"  Well, it is actually quite simple with a little work system put in place for staff. 

This little container holds the pages that need to be done in the back. It has a tab for each of the students so as they finish a page we just file it behind their name. By the end of the theme, the whole book is in order behind the student's tab and just simply needs a few staples before going home! 

The book featured in this picture is Chicka-Chicka Boom-Boom, What’s Behind the Numbered Room? It was part of our Chicka-Chicka Boom-Boom theme and can be accessed on Boardmaker Achieve.

So here is a sneak peek into what our Easter story will look like!

This is the large version that will be read each day to the children during small group.
And here are a few pics of the smaller student version so you can see the entire story.

Note:  If you make class books on Boardmaker, you can easily adjust the size of the story to one page of the story fitting on each 8 ½ by 11 page or shrink it down so 2 or 4 pages fit on the page. All you do is select all the Boardmaker buttons you made and then hit control function to make the whole set bigger or smaller.

Also note that the egg stamp we used for this project is actually a holiday bingo dauber. 

My grandmother has gotten me a few of them on her bingo outings. And WOW!... do we love them! No mess but a lot of fun. Don’t have themed bingo daubers or an awesome grandma to get you some☺?  You can also use Easter stamps from Wal-Mart.

With Easter right around the corner, don’t forget to check out some of our previous Easter posts.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

How to Build a Math Center in an Early Childhood Special Education Classroom

Building from last week's post on our social center, today I'm going to show you how those skills and activities can be used on a higher level at the math center. 

In our classroom, the social center is used for our morning friends who are just starting to learn pre-academic skills and increase attention spans, time on tasks, and appropriate social interactions. I plan 5 to 6 social games and activities for our students to play at the social center for 10 to 12 minutes. These activities are done on the floor in a specific place in the classroom.

For math, I plan 2 to 3 activities for a 12 to 15 minute small group time that is completed at a small round table. My paras do math at a table so the students are one step closer to the in-seat desk work typical of kindergarten. 

Math activities are designed for my older and higher skill-level kids in the afternoon session. Most of them will be headed to kindergarten or a more typical preschool classroom in the fall so it is important that we have a plan for increasing demands and supporting generalization of skills. 

That being said, we do have a few students in our afternoon program that need more support to complete math small group activities.  In those cases, the students may do a shortened math center followed by a preferred ‘then’ activity such as a reinforcement like iPad time or sensory play. 

On other occasions, we may incorporate functional errands or independent tasks and layered grouping to support active engagement specific to the level of each student. I will get into examples of those at a later date. For now, I would like you to see math firsthand via another great video of my boys and me reenacting math small group.  They are getting good at it if I must say so myself [. . . Okay, I am a little biased! ;)].  

You may have noticed in the video that I incorporated differentiated instruction as my two year old and six year old are clearly not at the same level. For example in Activity #1, I attempted to have EJ read the color words on each page and had Payton simply follow along in his book. Then when it was time to color, I had EJ attempt to find the correct page number and Payton simply find the color yellow to color the dinosaur. My expectation for Payton was simply to color in the space and for EJ the demand was to color the whole dinosaur inside the lines. 

Please note the difference in expectations can inhibit the boys from finishing the activity at the same time so it is important for me to plan accordingly. For instance, Payton may be asked to reread the story with me while EJ finishes or maybe he works on naming colors with the crayons in his box. Whatever the case may be, it is important to keep kids engaged and limit wait time because wait time invites students to get off task and act out.

Here is a closer look at Activity #1. 

It is a dinosaur book printed from kidssoup.com. If you are just starting out with collecting materials and activities for students, kidsoup is a great resource! Especially if you plan to go the thematic route that our classroom has chosen! I feel like by using thematic units, I keep myself accountable. Our themes change every two to three weeks so it keeps me on my toes. I have to change out activities at least every two to three weeks. 

One last point to notice with activity one, I placed the crayons for each student in small pencil boxes that snap. It's great fine motor practice for them and a great way to support structure as when the student is finished the crayons must be put away. You may have also noticed in the video, I have all my materials at my fingertips by placing them on the floor beside me. By having them there rather than on the table, the kids know what they need to focus on in each moment. One way you can keep all your materials close to eliminate wait time but also help students know what they need to be working on when is by using a plastic drawer system with wheels from Wal-Mart.

This system also provides a visual for the students so they know how much work they have to do. You can actually number the drawers and add an "all done" icon to the front after completing each one to support understanding of how much work.

Which leads me to Activity #2, it also has two levels. Payton was simply sorting while EJ was graphing. (Its worksheet appearance makes it a  great precursor to kindergarten!) Note:  We put the graph in a page protector to save on copying as it is used several times throughout our dinosaur unit.

Notice that the boys could understand how many they had to graph or sort by feeling inside the cave. This helps them understand how much work they have to do and ultimately decreases anxiety and unwanted behavior. If needed, I also have the ability to change the amount of work that needs to be done by adding or removing a few dinosaurs from the cave.

Moving on to Activity #3, it is not leveled by work but rather by the questions I asked. For example, I instructed Payton to find the purple dinosaurs and EJ to determine which color had the most dinosaurs. The great thing about Activity #3 is that it incorporates working together as a team. As much as my boys didn’t love giving each other a high five at the end, the activity lent itself to a “Good job, WE did it!”

So there you have it, one day in the life of kids at small group math! Leading me to a good point....to encourage consistency but also spruce routines up with a little novelty, I plan different math games for each day of the week and then we rotate through them throughout each unit. 

Above you saw activities for Mondays during our dinosaur unit. Below you will see a few other examples from the rest of the week. Each one leveled for student success. Keep in mind each day during our dinosaur unit, we color a page in our dinosaur big and small book so that the book is complete by the end of the unit.  We then followed coloring up with these activities specific to the day of the week.

Dinosaur Bone Count & Addition

The kids count out dinosaur bones (spray-painted dog treats) for each plate. Note the plate is a plastic plate allowing us to add dry erase marker marks to support one-to-one correspondence. Also, I incorporated the plastic plates with three divisions for kiddos that are ready for simple addition with objects. This idea was another great one provided by KidsSoup

Dinosaur Listening

The students work on listening to the description of each dinosaur to uncover it behind the eggs. As needed, we use the aided-language board for visual support. (This activity is also from kidssoup!)

Triceratops Play

This game was printed from Mailbox Magazine. Students roll a color die and a number die. Depending on the student's level, either the color word or color and number die or dot die to see what part of triceratops to color each body part.

Hopefully, these activities got your wheels turning! The whole idea is that kids learn best with hands-on activities. It is important to change it up for them but still provide the structure and visuals needed for success. It is important to instruct all children at a level that is just above their mastery level so they stay challenged and engaged without frustration or distraction.

That is the tricky part especially when we have a classroom with student's at all levels. There is definitely a science to it all! I am still working on perfecting it. However, I know I am getting closer.  And WOW.... does it change how students participate, interact and learn when we use a balance of creativity and differentiated instruction to support active engagement by all students!!!

Recently, we added this visual to do just that. 

It provides the students with three different activities and shows them exactly how much work they have to do before getting preferred time at sensory. (It should be shared that sensory is also math-based as the students have to dig for a center amount of items, numbers, or shapes for these wood puzzles. 

Notice the pieces to the puzzle all have Velcro to support a completed task and tell the kids how much time they get to spend at sensory. I will share more about that next week in my post about our sensory table but for now I do want to share a little bit about our "How Many?" jar! 

Click the below video to see how the "How Many?" jar engages all learners every day at math.

Best wishes and Happy Math Planning until next time ...

Lindy :)

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Using Structured Learning Activities to Build an Effective Social Center

Today's post explores a center that is new to our classroom this year, the social center.  The social center was designed for students to learn socially appropriate ways to interact and participate with peers and teachers.
Some students rotate to "social" with only a teacher while others come with one or two peers.  It depends on each student’s level as to how many peers join them at the center. The idea is that we provide structured learning activities in which the students can learn skills like sitting and listening, wait their turn, sharing with a friend and/or teacher and keeping hands to themselves.  A little side note—we work on hands to ourself and wait your turn using these two visuals.  A quick prompt given by the teacher and/or a wait my turn card. 

Not all kids use or need this visual. However, we have it Velcroed to the side of our social cabinet so whenever a student needs a reminder to wait his/her turn we have this visual at a close proximity.  You can print both the quick prompt and the hands waiting at Boardmaker Achieve Community (formerly known as Boardmaker Share). 

Back to the social center, the students stay at social for 10 to 15 minutes depending on their ability to attend.  We want them to be in the space at a level that challenges them without getting into unwanted behaviors or forcing them to stay in the area. With that, I have a series of 5 to 6 structured learning activities for them to work on. They are usually based on the theme we are doing and get switched out every two to three weeks depending on students’ mastery, interest and upcoming themes. All activities are stored in trusty fabric boxes. 

Thifty Teacher Tip: You can now buy fabric boxes at Dollar General!
As obvious in the above photo, the boxes and carpet in the space are red. The color uniformity defines the space and helps the kids transition to social as well as other carpeted spaces in the classroom using color-coded picture icons.

As you may recall from our classroom tour, every space and center in our classroom is defined by a different color.  I am excited to say thanks to Miss Susie from our PT department, we even have red chairs in our social center now!!

So you may be wondering what is actually stored in the fabric boxes....the answer is simple, STRUCTURED LEARNING ACTIVITIES! Structured learning activities are simply activities with a clear beginning and end.  Visually the students can tell what they need to do and can see how much work they have to do to complete the activity.
In the below video, my boys and I are modeling the social center.  Notice how I modify the activities specific to each boy's interest and ability level.  For example during the first activity, the boys know how much work they have to do by how many eggs are in the fabric bag.  You will also see that I remove some of the eggs so that the boys can finish before they lose interest and/or start acting out.  

Instructor's Insight: I use fabric bags to increase random drawing.  We often use the phrase “take one” and have the kids practice following directions and working on impulse control by only taking one item out of the bag. By using a fabric bag, we eliminate the sound of a plastic bag.  It also stores easier than a box or bucket.  I love them too, because the fabric gives the student an element of surprise.  If the student can see in the bag, he/she may get stuck on picking out a certain item which makes for longer wait time and promotes unwanted behaviors.  I have several fabric bags that a foster grandma made for us several years ago.  I have also picked some fabric totes up in the craft section at Wal-Mart for a dollar!
My staff and I continually monitor student performance and if someone is struggling with a task or activity, we modify the amount of work done or the level at which it must be done.  That being said, my staff and I are always the ones to set the limits.  If a student is very resistant to an activity, we will empathize with their opinion by saying something like "you want to be all done" but then end on our terms by saying "you need to do one more and then all done.”  

We also modify the workload another way.  If a child is really interested in something or needs to practice a task more, we will add work.  Either way we want the students to feel as though they have accomplished the task.  We never undo their work in front of them and always celebrate the work accomplished.  It's important to produce activities that are one level beyond the student's individual skill level so the task is realistically achievable. 

This is demonstrated in the provided video by using my 2 and ½ year old and 6 year old.  They definitely have different skill sets but I try to keep them both interested and engaged at their level.  For example, I ask my 6 year old questions like "How do you spell the color, blue?" and "Which one has the most?".  I then ask my 2 year-old questions like "Is that the same or different?" and "What color did you get?".  

Note: He did not know his colors at the time the video was taken, but interestingly enough he was able to use some color words when I facilitated learning with an aided-language board that had colors on it.

Here is a closer look at the structured learning activities that were featured in the video.  They are all part of our dinosaur unit.  I store the unit in a tub with all my other thematic unit materials.  In the future I am hoping to share a blog post specific to each thematic unit that we have done in our classroom.  But for now, here are few examples from our dino unit.

Box One:  Same or Different Dinosaur Hatch

I simply use some plastic dinosaurs from discount school supply and put them in plastic easter eggs. The children use their fine motor skills to open the eggs and decide if the egg and dino were the same color or two different colors.  They then put the dino and egg in either the "same" or "different" can.  Note:  I cut four slits in the lid of the can making the students have to push the egg and dino through.  This is a nice way to add a little sensory input and it adds a feeling of accomplishment.
Box Two: Magnet Dinosaur Match

This game was printed from Kid Soup. (Kid Soup is a subscription based website where you can print off amazing thematic unit activities. I highly recommend it!!)  Note: I packing taped my version to a cookie sheet and then added adehesive magnets to the back to make it more stationary.  I also added an aided-language board for the kids to describe what dinosaurs they selected. 

Box Three: Dinosaur Color Clip

This is a game I made from some dinosaur bookmarks Miss Molly had left over from her nephew's birthday party.  It is amazing how many little trinket toys and party favors can be made into a task!! :)

Box Four:  Dinosaur Number Puzzle

This is a simple triceratops puzzle where the kids have to request certain numbered puzzle pieces.  The pattern is from an old Mailbox Magazine. (Next time, you will see how this game can be modified for older students at the math center! )

Box Five: Dinosaur Sorting and Cave

For this game, I hot glued a piece of brown felt over an old Lean Cuisine tray.  The kids pretend it is a cave to pull out dinosaurs and then place the dino in the appropriate spot in the sorting tray from Lakeshore.  I have the complete set of these trays.  They are well worth it!! They make any math activity more hands on!
You may have noticed in the video clip that I did not do Box Six.  At the time this video was recorded, Box Six had reinforcing activities in it for one of our afternoon kiddos.  We do not use the social center for the afternoon kids. Instead, we do math games at the table. Since we don’t use the space for the afternoon, it became a great place for one of our students to spend his earned downtime with preferred toys and games.  You can see more details about it in the reindeer reinforce post shared in December.

Before I sign off today, I do want to share the latest and greatest at social.  As I have mentioned many times before....Our classroom is a work in progress!!!  A few weeks ago I noticed that the kids needed a little more visual structure in the social area.  Most of the students who use the area do not have a good understanding of numbers and the sequence of numbers.  As a result, I added a farm animal icon to each box.  

Why farm animals you may ask???  Well, because they are of interest to several of our kiddos.  Currently, they are really excited by farm animals. In fact, some of our students are just starting to imitate animal sounds so it gives us a chance to work on verbal imitation by saying things like "Time for the cow box say 'Mooooo'" and the child can have a little practice imitating the sound. 

After labeling each box with a farm animal, I made a chart for all the boxes at social and slid it in a 5x7 plastic frame.  

This allows the group to mark off what has been completed or the teacher can even mark off a box or two that they are not going to work on for the day.   The kids love this addition to the social center.  I do too!! It makes staff working in this center that much more accountable for completing the boxes they intended to complete as we all get a little lax after repeating our centers day after day.  But repetition is what makes it work for our students so we, as their instructors, struggle through!! 

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Natalie's Story: Using Structured Learning Principles in the Home of a Child with Special Needs

With permission from her parents, this week I am sharing the progress of Natalie, a wonderful little girl with Trisomy 4p.  Trisomy 4p is a rare chromosome disorder in which some of the material in one of the body’s 46 chromosomes is duplicated.  Like most other chromosome disorders, this is associated with birth defects, developmental delays and learning difficulties.

For Natalie, the disorder’s effects are significant.  In the early years of life, she struggled with illness and many health complications.  More recently, she has gotten to a place where she is healthy enough to come to school and explore her environment.  With that exploration, there have been a few growing pains. In the beginning, it was just exciting to watch her become mobile and explore her world regardless of what she was exploring...her brother's toys, the refrigerator, pots and pans, the washer and dryer, etc.  But then came the time when limits needed to be set. 

In early December her mom texted me, “Help! Natalie is into everything and even broke the Christmas tree!”  With that text I knew it was time for a house call which turned out to be an amazing opportunity for all of us.   I had never realized how much the structure of the classroom can be adapted to a home to create success until I start working more closely with Natalie’s family and care providers.    

As I reflect back I think when Natalie started school, she realized that there was more to life.  She enjoyed the structure and challenges that school provided. But the transitions from school day to home life presented two very different environments that brought out mischievous behavior at home.  At school, we structured growth opportunities.  At home, Natalie found them on her own like trying to figure out how to open the baby gate to the basement, prying a door knob open, or tearing her brother’s library books.  She was craving structure and challenge.  She actually started to like school so much that she cried when the bus dropped her off at home.

So how did we build structure into her home? Well, HUGE props to her mom, dad, and grandparents for doing just that!  I shared with them a few ideas for structuring her toys and play things.  For the most part, Natalie has never found interest in toys.  She would much rather dig in the kitchen cabinets or get into the refrigerator so we had to come up with a way to make toys interesting to her.  She loves to put in and take out. She has become very proficient at put in tasks.  So her dad simply repurposed the cube shelving that they had in the family room and her bedroom. 

NOTE: Her dad mounted the shelving units to the wall so if she pulls herself up with them they would not fall on her.  

They bought a few extra fabric boxes and then her mom went through the family toys and placed one toy or put in task in each box.  (Notice the new boxes they found at Home Depot.  They are in half sized sections. So exciting for us organization geeks!! :) I purchased some for our literacy center so we can double the amount of leveled boxes we have!)

Here's what the cube boxes look like in Natalie's bedroom.  

Her dad strategically mounted the shelving going out from the wall.  This helps care providers and parents keep her in the space they would like her to play in.  She is much like a toddler in that she likes to leave and explore different rooms.  This blocks her from seeing the door.  It is much like how our social center is set up in the classroom.  (I am hoping to share that center with you soon!)

The systems work like magic!  Her mom even said, “Wow, we should have done this with her brother when he was little.”  It is just good practice for all children.  By organizing their play things, it organizes their play.  For Natalie, it also provides boundaries. When her toys were stored in a large toy box, they were overwhelming to her.  It was much more structured and fun for her to go to the kitchen cabinets and pull out the pots and pans.  Now that her toys are organized, she is more interested in putting in and taking out her toys rather than pots and pans.  Next, we will work on her ability to play and engage with toys for a longer amounts of time.  

Of course, there is some training involved.  At first, Natalie was in the habit of going to things that were off limits. I told her parents and care providers to redirect her to her spaces in the home each time she would try to explore the kitchen or other off limit spaces.  The family also added a hook and eye to the top of the door to her brother’s room and the bathroom so those areas would be off limits unless accompanied by an adult. 

So what’s in the boxes?  Some of her favorites:
The key to success is that the family switches the toys out every two or three weeks so she doesn’t get bored and start engaging in previous behaviors.  Fortunately for Natalie, her family has collected a lot of great toys over the years with the help of grandparents and garage sales.  We also supplement her toys by checking out some of our classroom toys and tasks to her and her family so she can generalize play skills and experience things in both settings. 

The family has become accustom to building put in tasks and other task boxes from things around the house with the help of my trusty resource, "How Do I Teach This Kid?" by Kimberly Henry and the great folks at Task Galore.  Natalie's favorites work on increasing her skill level.  Here are some examples.

Counting Bear Put In 

Notice that I hot glued craft foam on the top of the put in container so that students can’t put in and dump out.  They can only put in. 

Bell Put In

This task includes its own reinforcement as Natalie loves the bells making noise as she puts them in. 

Golf Tee Push In

This task has the added element of pushing in rather than just putting in. 

CD Put On 

This task is a step up from put in as it's put on instead. 

String Bead Take Off/Put In 

This task works on two-step directions:  1. Take off and 2. Put on.

Bead Put In   

The bead put in was something we added to desensitize Natalie to putting things on.  She resists putting on bracelets, necklaces and more importantly stocking caps and her prescription glasses.  By taking an activity she likes and is successful at (Put In) and using parts of beaded necklaces as the put in materials she has become less resistant to necklaces. Now, we can work toward her putting on other things.  She now wears beaded necklaces, bracelets and stocking caps for short periods and tolerates holding her glasses.  She used to scream and bang her head each time I presented her with her glasses.  It is all a work in progress, but wow, we are proud of her progress so far!!  

Other advances we are making with Natalie is in relation to direct instruction at home and school.  You can click here to see what direct instruction looks like at school. At home, her parents created a small work space near their dining room. Here is the table she works at. 

Typically, the chair in this work space is a Rifton chair This is not to hold her in or confine her but rather to help her sit up properly and become more attentive.

To the left side of her table, her parents have repurposed a wooden chest to hold all of Natalie’s tasks. 

Inside there are a variety of task boxes organized in plastic bins. Natalie’s mom shared that the only thing they purchased for this area was the plastic shoe box containers.  The rest of it is simply stuff they have saved and accumulated from their house and her grandparents’ houses.  And such a wonderful job they have done with it!!! Way to go!!! It looks awesome and really serves as a great learning space for Natalie. It helps fill her day with appropriate learning and exploring activities.

And with that, I must share the next step for Natalie.  In the video clip below, you will see Natalie using her teaching area to learn to communicate in an appropriate manner.  Since Natalie is nonverbal, one of her biggest struggles is finding ways communicate and express herself.  Two of the main ways she communicates is by banging her head and/or screaming and crying.  Both of which, we would like to shape into more effective communication techniques.  Over time she has learned if I bang my head someone will come and help me or redirect me.  The current forms of communication provide her with the attention she is seeking.  

So as a team we have come up with an alternate plan when she bangs her head.  We do not give her verbal attention or eye contact. We simply put our hand in the space she is banging so it is a softer surface but direct our attention to something else that is going on the room so she does not get attention for the head banging.  This was a technique I learned from the training I did regarding Applied Behavior Analysis with Jill Koertner and her K-Cart team. 

Like you all know, this technique alone will not curb the behavior. We have to teach a new skill.  The skill we are teaching is for Natalie to learn to communicate her need for attention and/or help by using a come here button 

Here are the video clips showing Natalie’s speech therapist, Andrea Carmichael, and I during a home visit teaching the come here button to Natalie’s mom and home nurse.  Because they were recorded during a collaborative home visit you will hear Natalie’s team and I brainstorming how the button should work.  I am hoping the brainstorming you will here will be helpful as you watch it and not be a distraction to seeing what Natalie is learning and doing. 

It is definitely a work in progress at school and home. We have incorporated the big come here button as well as a device with four buttons that have come here, all done, and help on them.   

The fourth button is strategically left blank.  When Natalie pushes it, nothing happens helping her to realize that each button has meaning and the blank button doesn’t get her anything.  This is especially important in the teaching phase of the device so we can see if she is just pushing to push or if she is pushing for purposeful communication.

A big thank you to Natalie and her family for sharing Natalie’s progress with the Considerate Classroom Family.  As a special education teacher once shared with me, the journey is a marathon not a sprint.  As Natalie grows & matures, additions, adaptations and changes to her systems will be made to best meet her needs.  She is truly an amazing little girl. A miracle who has overcome so much!!! I see so much potential in Natalie especially with the love and dedication of her parents, brother and grandparents.  She is so blessed to have such wonderful family support and nursing care.   

And my blessing is to have the opportunity to work them.  I have learned so much from them and truly admire the love and dedication they have for each other.  Natalie has taught me so much.  Her family’s willingness to let me come into their home and strategize and plan with them has been an amazing opportunity.  I have learned to celebrate all gains...big or small.  There's no doubt that Natalie came into my life to remind me to appreciate each moment and all that I have. 

I have the utmost respect for all parents raising special needs children.  Parenting is such a hard job especially when the job is intensified by special needs.  In my experience, there are often so many questions for these parents: Where do I turn? What do I do? Who can help?. It changes your life in more ways than can be identified or counted.  My hope, as a special education teacher, is that I can be the support you need and share what I have been blessed to have learned from others.