Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Our ECSE Classroom's Schedule: Part Four - Snack Time (10:00 am or 10:20am - 10:20 or 10:40am)

Welcome back!  It is 10:00 (or 10:20 depending on if we get outside time or not) in the routine of school day.  Are you hungry yet?  I hope so...it’s snack time! 

Here are our snack prep area and snack tables. 

Click here to view a video example of how snack preparation works in our classroom. 

Yep, all our students help with snack jobs.  Impressive, huh?!   

Originally, we added snack prep jobs to solve behavior management issues.  Before snack jobs came about, it took an entire staff person away from large group to set the tables for snack.  The absent adult made it difficult for some kids to sit and perform at large group without prompts and supports from staff. And then...we revamped and added in snack jobs as suggested by our amazing OT, Miss Debbie!
So here is a closer look at how they all work.  First, during large group one staff person cleans off the tables and lays out the placemats. 
This one is used for when we have special guests like parents or observers. Other ones have staff and student photographs on them.

The mats are $1.97 placemats I picked up at Walmart and cut in half and then traced a cup and tray outline on them with a permanent marker so that the kids could practice one-to-one correspondence as they set the table and know exactly were to place the trays and cups. The trays and cups are also purchased from Walmart.  The trays are $0.98 and the cups are 2 for $0.88.  You can find them in the kitchen section. 


We decided on using trays rather than just napkins or plates as they are a precursor to the larger lunch trays that students use in the cafeteria when they move on to kindergarten.

Note: The staff person that sprays the tables and sets the placemats out does so after the student she supports at large group earns three tokens for good behavior (sitting up tall, listening to the teacher and doing your work) and gets to go play educational games on the iPad for 5 minutes using a sand timer from Watching Time Pass. 

(The tokens are earned and then stored on a DVD cover.)

Following the time on the iPad, the staff person is done prepping the tables and they both go back to group as a layered grouping feature best meets the needs of the student and uses staff time efficiently.  Here is the back of the DVD token system.  It is the student's picture schedule.  It says "Time for circle time!".  Other picture icons are stored on a Velcro strip inside the DVD case. It's so compact...a motivating system and schedule all-in-one!

Note that each placemat is color-coded with colored tape from Discount School Supply to match colored tape on the back of each chair. 

This helps get the mats out quick and strategically so that students that need extra adult help are sitting by adults and kids who have a hard time sitting by certain peers are sitting by those that will be good role models.  Color coding the snack mats also gives us an opportunity for layered grouping.  One of our kiddos in the afternoon class, who has a hard time sitting for all of large group, dismisses a little early to match the mats to the color on each chair.  A great way to give him the movement he needs without disrupting his peers!

As the students get dismissed for snack, they are prompted to line up on a black square to wash their hands. 

These black construction paper squares have been contact papered to the tile to support kids in not crowding each other at the sink.  We use other black shapes for lining up to go outside and lining up to go in the hallway.  Just another way to imbed learning about shapes throughout our school day!

As each student steps up to wash their hands, they have the opportunity to look for their assigned snack job on the magnetic board mounted behind the sink.  

Notice some students look for their photo while others look for their name or even last name.  Then, after washing their hands and finding their job, they walk to the right of the sink to get the supplies needed to complete their job. 

One student gets the trays from the top drawer, one gets the plastic basket of cups off the top of the drawer system, and another gets the plastic basket of napkins.  Then, two other students get out the food for the orange and purple tables from the orange and purple drawers. (The drawers are just clear tubs that have been lined with purple and orange construction paper.) One student gets the water pitchers out of our mini-fridge just to the right of the sink. One or two students place the artificial flowers on the table to match a di-cut flower that is packing taped to each table.  I say one or two students as this is one of our easiest jobs so if we have some pretty young or lower-level students, we will simply have their job be matching one vase of flowers to di-cut flower packing taped to the table. 

Notice the artificial flowers are in an old aluminum can so that we don’t risk a glass or ceramic vase getting broken. 

Whew...snack prep is done.   Time for snack.

Not a lot to say about actual snack time other than we try to support our kids in using language at snack so we have little snack language boards to support requesting and conversation. 

We also have a thank you board posted for students to read for information and thank the friend or staff person that brought snack for the day. 

Some of our students would prefer to breeze right through snack time so they can go outside.  To support appropriate eating and snack conversation, we often set out a 10 or 5 minute sand timer from watching time pass so the kids can manage their time wisely. 

When the sand is all gone, each child is in charge of going to the table to dump and put away their snack items. 

This is a great precursor to lunch time in the cafeteria as the students get promoted and move on to kindergarten.  

With that, I promote you to outside play!!  Join me next time for the inside scoop on outside time!    

Best wishes, 

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Our ECSE Classroom's Schedule: Part Three - Large Group (9:40 am - 10:00 am or 10:20am)

Welcome back to the magic that is our classroom and how it all works together.  :)

Last time we were together, I shared our highly engaging and successful 80 to 100 minutes of learning rotations.  Now it is time to all join back up at large group between 9:40 and 10:00 (depending on if we have outside time or not). 

We do so by singing this song to the tune of She’ll Be Coming Round the Mountain.
It is time to go to large group with our friends,
It is time to go to large group with our friends,
Put your things away, find your chair and have a seat,
Oh, it is time to go to large group with our friends. 
Hi Friends!”
Note: We sing this song over and over again until all the students have arrived at large group.  The song helps smooth the transition.   We can sing it fast, slow, loud, or quiet depending on what the mood and needs of the classroom are.  We can also change the words a bit to fit what is happening.  For example if we are waiting for a group to get back from an errand or a potty break, we may change the last two lines of the song to, We are waiting for friends, We are waiting for our friends? Who are waiting for right now? 

By singing it until everyone joins, we have found it makes for a more successful transition and the students who arrive before others still have something to do while they wait.  They can sing and slap their knees or clap their hands whatever the lead teacher is doing while we wait.  The big thing is that there needs to be a staff person waiting for everyone to come join.  Sometimes this gets challenging as that person (usually myself) is setting up the Smartboard, helping a student whom is struggling, or getting out lapbooks and materials so sometimes we have to be creative.  I feel like how we start engagement for large group sets the tone for the rest of group time. 
You can learn more about various forms of large group and how we run opening calendar by clicking here to read three different posts on morning calendar. 

At the end of large group (10:00 or 10:20 again depending if we get outside time or not), the students get dismissed one at a time for snack by using a thematic large group game. For instances, they may each get a chance to guess the item in Santa’s bag, or play hot potato with a pumpkin ball.  When the ball lands by them they go wash their hands for snack.  The idea here is that large group ends in a staggered fashion so we limit wait time at the sink as students wait to wash their hands.  

Join me next time to learn all about our snack time routine! :) 

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Our ECSE Classroom's Schedule: Part Two - Centers (8:15 am - 9:40 am)

I am back!  It is 8:15 and time for centers or what we like to call "Learning Rotations".  I stole the term from two amazing educators doing wonderful work here in western Kansas, Teri Berkgren & Dixie Teeter.  They use the term for their older students whom are involved in structured teaching rotations within an inclusive setting. However, I stole the term for our classroom to help parents and staff recognize that although our centers revolve around play activities, they are very much learning opportunities!

Following arrival time, the students begin their 80 to 100 minutes of learning rotations.  Depending on if we get to go outdoors for recess and how many peers and staff groups there are, each rotation is 10 to 15 minutes.  Staff members know which center they will supervise with which student(s) by looking at this magnetic marker board chart. 

It is perfect for staff as the center photos and student pictures are on magnetic dots so we can change the chart as needed when peers or staff are absent. We can write little reminders to staff using a dry erase marker.   

The students know where they are starting learning rotations by the icon or object they are presented through their individual schedules.  I am not going to get into the centers themselves as you can go to each centers link below to see more details.

Direct Instruction
Independent Work/iPad Time
Art and Free Art (I promise to post on these centers soon)
Rug Play 1 and Rug Play 2

Pretend Play

However I will share a few logistical details about learning rotations.  We have four staff people in the classroom (and sometimes an extra volunteer).  Each person is in charge of two centers.  The students rotate around the room in a clockwise motion. 
Staff have the flexibility to rotate each group through their centers in a way that works for the group.  For example if we are switching adults every 20 minutes, the staff person can choose to have her group at her first center for 12 minutes and then do the other center for 8 minutes.  The whole idea is that we work with the students’ interests and abilities in mind.  Some students even leave the classroom with their paired adult between centers to do a functional errand or two. (I will share more about that later).   
I provide my staff with the tools and flexibility to support the kids however is best for each group. The only stipulation is that the group must work in both centers and complete their work for both centers before the 20 minutes is up and it is time for students to switch adults.  
At which time, we try to sing this song.  It is to the tune of Clementine. Originally I got it from Miss Joelene, an amazing preschool teacher here in Hays, who got it from Mailbox Magazine.  We changed the words a bit so we could work on the transition piece as well as saying goodbye and hello to staff.   
Changing centers, changing centers,
It is time for something new,
Changing centers, changing centers,
It is time to say goodbye to YOU!
Note: When I first started teaching in the special education preschool classroom, my staff and I were each assigned to a student or group of students per day.  We would go with our group to every center with our student or group of students.  We did so simply because I couldn’t wrap my mind around how the kids could possibly transition by themselves.  

With individual schedules and intentional teaching, you would be surprised how quickly the kids picked up on the transitions.  It is also a much better fit for staff.  We don’t all have to learn how to run each center instead we can focus on our expert center.  It also benefits the students as they learn to work with every staff person, every day.  It has also made my job a whole lot easier.  I teach direct instruction for each student so I have the ability to touch base with them every day and really work on their individual IEP goals in a one on one format. 
So there you have it.  It is 10:00 and Learning Rotations are over and it is time for Large Group!  Join me next time for more details.


Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Our ECSE Classroom's Schedule: Part One - Arrival & Daily Jobs (7:45 am - 8:15 am)

Today I am backtracking a bit.  I receive a lot of emails wondering how our centers fit into the grand scheme of things.  This post answers that very COMPLEX question!!

The reason I didn’t start by sharing this process is because it's always evolving.  We adapt as students make progress or needs and behaviors change.  We also have to change as new students come in and alter the dynamic of our classroom.  

We are the only significant needs preschool in our special education cooperative. Therefore as kids "age out" of infant-toddler services and turn three, they come to us. We also get children with significant needs and IEP plans who move into the area.  I should also mention that most of the time even if our caseload grows our staff support doesn’t.  As a result, we have to be pretty creative with our schedule and resources.  Keep all that in mind as I share more about the magic that is our classroom!!! :)   

How does it all work?

It really all revolves around my great staff!!  Last school year, I had three paras and myself working with 9 morning students and 8 afternoon students.  We do not have peer models.  Our classroom takes the approach of providing students with severe and significant needs in a very intense early childhood model.  Our goal is to support students where they are and get them to a place where they can then transition into a more typical preschool or kindergarten classroom.  Some of them do that by spending the other half of their day in a more traditional public or private preschool/daycare while others work toward improving their skills through significant supports from family and care providers in their homes. 
Our classroom runs Monday through Thursday with Fridays being the day I consult.  On Fridays, I have the opportunity to help parents and grandparents set up home programs, as well as supporting daycare and preschool programs.  I am hoping to show you a closer look at those supports at a later date but for now I will share how our classroom runs minute by minute.
Our morning friends come to school between 7:45 and 8:00.  To support early arrivals in the morning class, I reluctantly started showing an educational video each morning usually from PBS kids or from the Leap Frog Learning Series 

I say reluctantly because I wasn’t too excited about students starting their day with a movie but in hindsight it was the best decision we could have made.  After each student does their arrival job, they calm their bodies and relax a bit while waiting for their friends.  This strategy was the perfect solution for my students last year and gave my staff 15 minutes to prepare things for the day.  One staff person always sat with the kids. Another helped a student in the sensory room while myself and one other para prepared for the day. But as you probably already know....in the world of preschool to have any prep time at all is a gift!! 

Class actually begins at 8:00 am.  Ideally, all the students would come in at 8:00 so we could all start at the same time but unfortunately, we have several parents that need to be to work by 8:00 so we have made classroom modifications accordingly.  In my opinion, seeing the students' parents each day is well worth accommodating an earlier drop-off schedule. Parent and teacher communication is vital to student success!!!  Especially true for those students just entering our program whom are usually in the morning class since they are younger and still nap in the afternoon. 
As students arrive, we support them in managing their own belongings and transitioning into the classroom at the level they are capable.  Some students are working on unzipping their coats and backpack with an extra bead or key chain attached so their little hands can be more independent.

(Look very closely to see a silver office ring on the zipper of both the jacket and the backpack.)
Others are simply working on a smooth transition from mom and dad using a "Hi & Goodbye Teacher/Parent Language Board". We attach it to the back of our mini-language books that we store in our aprons. 

Yet other students work on putting mail in their backpack as each student has a cubby that holds the class newsletter and other flyers and papers. 

A little tip I've learned because we were looking for more space is to use packing tape cardboard dividers in our cubbies so each student has his/her own mailbox.  Because of this trick, we did not have to find a place for a mailboxes elsewhere in the classroom. 
The top cubbies are for afternoon kids whom are typically older, taller students. The little black containers that are hot glued to the bottom cubbies are for object-schedule items.  When our kiddos on object schedules are presented a little Barbie coat or backpack, they know to go to their cubbies to get their coat or backpack. 
NOTE: Transitioning into the classroom can be tough for some children.  Sometimes we find that the cubby system is too overwhelming for certain students.  They have a hard time independently putting their coats and backpacks away in such close quarters to others. In these cases, we add a command hook to a calm place in the classroom where they can hang their coats and backpacks successfully.  This has also minimized pushing and shoving before outdoor time and dismissal.  Here are two examples:

This system is ideal for one of our little guys. He is able to hang his coat and backpack and
then immediately check his schedule to see what comes next as it is a wall schedule just to the right of his hooks.  The backpack that is already hanging on his hook is one he used for sensory input at the time the photo was taken.  He would wear it on his back as he transitioned from place to place.  It had beanbags inside to give it a little weight.  Overall, it was a great set up for him because this location served as his home base.  He was very active and needed that patterned movement of walking to his schedule in between activities to get his next schedule icon. 

After the students say goodbye to parents and hang their coats and backpacks up, they check in and do their arrival jobs.  
The students check in by finding their picture, first, or last name depending on their level and making a line to their arrival job. 

Arrival jobs are a great way to help our students transition into the classroom.  They are based on the work of Dr. Becky Bailey with Conscious Discipline.  Her work suggests that all children want to contribute.  100 years ago children had the opportunity to contribute to the family farm or household. However in our modern fast paced world, this is no longer the case.  Children do not have the opportunity to contribute to something bigger than themselves. By creating classroom jobs, our students, who most often are the receivers of help versus those giving help, can contribute and build independence & self-confidence. 
Each child’s job is based on his/her skill level.  Some of the students change jobs weekly while others keep the same job until they have mastered it.  Here is a look at our classroom arrival jobs. 

Job 1:  The Attendance Helper

The Attendance Helper sorts out who is at school for the day.  They put the teachers in the teacher row, the boys in the boy row and the girls in the girl row.  Then they count how many teachers, boys and girls are at school using the wood beads.  They mark their answer using hair clips.   They put wood tiles representing those absent into the put-in hole of a jar.  

A special thank you to Miss Vickie for coming up with the hair clip idea. The kids love it and it adds a fine motor component.  Unfortunately I can’t recall the name of the company that makes the system.  It is an old bear counting system that I picked up at a garage sale.  If you know the source, please let me know I would love to share it with others.
Job 2:  The Date Helper

The Date Helper puts the date on our wood desk calendar.  I purchased the calendar from Lakeshore several years back and then I used acrylic paint to paint an outline of what color pieces go in what spaces.  For our lower-level kids, it is simply a color matching activity.  We set the pieces out prior and they simply put the blue day of the week on the blue spot, the yellow month on the yellow spot and the green date on the green spots in the order they are laid out. 

For our higher-level students, we can make it more academic by writing the day of the week, month and date with dry-erase markers on the basket in the corresponding colors. The students can then look for those pieces in the basket. 
Job 3: The Dress-the-Bear Helper

The Dress-the-Bear Helper dresses our welcome bear in the pretend play center with the correct clothing.  They can dress him according to holiday or season.  For our lower-level kids, we simply set out two outfits for the helper to choose a matching outfit.  If they need help, they use this chart. 

We have the higher-level students search for the correct outfit using this book and basket of clothing as their guide.  A special thank you to my sons’ daycare provider, Jackie, for donating this welcome bear to our classroom.  She is always so kind and generous!  
Job 4: The Place Helper

The Place Helper helps to visually show where we are.  For instance, “Are we at home or school?” Yes, the answer is always school but it is a great concept to work on for our lower-level children.  To help vary the answer, sometimes the place visual is turned on home so the student must flip it to school where other times it is already on school so they just must acknowledge we are at school.   

The visual for this job is a repurposed freebie one of my old secretaries got from Lakeshore. Thanks, Mrs. Knoll. You are always thinking of our little Buddy Bears!  It used to have a place for the school name on one side and "sorry, we are out" with a clock showing when the class will be back on the opposite side.  I painted the clock side to make it look like a home and we had a Home/School Place visual.  

NOTE: This visual hangs right outside our classroom.  I often give this job to a student who needs to work on self-control and boundaries as they have to practice opening the door (with a staff person present), checking the place visual, and coming right back into the classroom.  This is a hard skill for some of our little ones. 
Job 5: The Weather Helper  

The Weather Helper completes the visuals on a song poster to tell us what the temperature is like, what the weather is like, and what we should wear when we go outside.  I strategically place this job by an outside window for the student to investigate the weather and right next to the place where the kids line up to go outside so we can then use the visuals on the poster to sing this song to the tune of “She’ll Be Coming Around the Mountain When She Comes” as we line up to go outside. 
It is time to go outside with our friends. 
It is time to go outside with our friends.
It is (cold/warm/cool/hot)outside. 

It is (nice, windy, rainy, snowy, sunny, cloudy) outside.
So we’ll wear our (big coats, jackets, hats and gloves, umbrellas, sunglasses, smiles) when we go!
It is great way to build meaning and awareness of weather for the students.  I got the idea from a Patty King DeBaun training.  She is a wonderful resource for literacy and AAC communication.  She teaches that weather needs to have meaning.  Talking about the weather at calendar time does not have the same meaning for our kiddos whom have trouble making connections as it does to talk about the weather before going outside in the weather. If you would like my words and cut outs for our weather song, feel free to send me an email.

Notice the visuals are color coded so the students know how to put the visuals in order to make the song complete. In our window, we have this thermometer that supports students in corresponding temperature to words freezing, cold, warm, cool, etc. and weather-appropriate clothing.  It was a little thing I learned from Nona Mason and a curriculum her district adopted called Everyday Math.  It was a little too abstract for my students but someday maybe it will be helpful--- never underestimate the power of a student!
Job 6: The Outside Helper

The Outside Helper is actually a job that was created for one student specifically.  He is a student that does not like change and wants to know exactly what is happening for the day.  Prior to making this little velcro flip sign, he would ask several times a day “Are we going outside?”.  By simply adding this sign, he could answer his own question.  At first, this was his job for two or three weeks.  Then as he started to see the pattern of we go outside when it is nice not cold, snowy, or rainy, he no longer needed to do the job himself so we rotated it between him and his peers. 
Job 7:  The Water Helper 

The Water Helper is in charge of filling our water pitchers for snack and putting them in our mini-refrigerator right next to the sink.  It is a good job for students that need to work on self-help skills and requesting help as the mini-fridge door is often hard to open.  

Note: The pitchers are little mini ones I get at Wal-Mart in the baking section for under $3.00.  Their little size prevents big spills and also makes it easy for little hands to hold and become independent pourers.  Also note that the upside-down bucket with a stop sign on it covers the water fountain when it is off limits.  We actually have two stop buckets so we can cover the sink faucet too if needed for students that are just learning boundaries and have an extreme interest in water. 
Job 8: The Plant Helper

The Plant Helper waters our classroom plant with three squirts.  This job works on fine motor skills, counting and self-control.  The reason for the visual with only three squirts is to help children use impulse control.  They would love to squirt the bottle a thousand times at a friend or teacher if they could but with the visual and some structure reminds the helper to squirt three times in the soil so not to drown the plant. 
NOTE: If needed we put the squirt bottle up high and the students can request it with the velcro icon visual.  We try to work toward impulse control and not needing to do that but at the beginning of the school year sometimes less distraction is more so putting it up is a lifesaver!
Job 9: The Fish Helper

Two years ago the Buddy Bears took a field trip to Wal-Mart to buy a class fish.  The kids voted on the fish’s name and he was declared "Nemo Teddy Bear".  One student's job each day was to feed the fish via the provided visuals.  The fish food was strategically placed up high so that the helper has to initiate and request the food.  We had a velcro icon that said “I need fish food, please.” attached to the counter by the fish bowl so our nonverbal kids could request it too.   

We modeled this request by helping the students pick up the icon and then walk it to a different staff person to request rather than the student simply giving the request to the staff person that was helping them.  This helped students see how they could request it themselves and not need staff support.  Note: This job is in past tense because last spring little Nemo Teddy Bear passed on.  RIP Nemo Teddy Bear.
Whew!  That was a lot of information.    Here is a video clip of some student actors doing arrival jobs. (For the purpose of videoing, each student took a turn doing his/her job. However during typical arrival routine, the students do the jobs simultaneously with the four staff members helping the students as needed.)  

A special thank you to my staff’s children and EJ for playing a part in the video model.  
Most of the students do a really nice job with their arrival jobs.  However just like any preschool classroom, we do have exceptions to that statement.  On any given day, we may have a student who resists their job, does it wrong, or needs significant support to complete it.  In which case, my amazing team goes to work.  They investigate the problem.  As shared in the work by Dr. Becky Bailey, if there is a chaotic moment in your classroom, the routine has not been taught or needs to be retaught.  I pride my staff in always observing student behavior and really noticing what students need help with and what needs to be restructured.  In some cases, nothing needs to be restructured. It was simply an off day for a particular student but on other days modifications need to made. 
Job Modifications

Here are some modifications that we have made for students over the years. 
Several of the students had trouble remembering their job and where they need to go after checking in so we made a matching velcro system. The students who needed a visual of what job they are going to could take the icon for the job and match it to the icon nearby that job. 

Some students use this method everyday where others used it for awhile but no longer need the additional support.  Note:  All arrival jobs are strategically placed around the classroom so the students do not work in the same area. 
For one student all the jobs we asked of her were just too much.   She needed to learn the system of checking in so we modified the system to only have an “I am here” icon under her name.  Here job was simply to check in and say I am here.  Note:  All students has this job at the beginning of the year.  Later, we added specific jobs as the students were ready for a challenge. 

For another student, we needed to modify our system of checking in. She resisted the use of chalk as her sensory system has a significant aversion to getting dirty. We modified her check in procedure by putting sidewalk chalk in a chalk holder.  Thanks to a Wal-Mart purchase by Miss Penny! :)

For another student, we needed to work on making a straight line from his picture to his job.  We weren’t sure if he viewed the arrival jobs as a choice board, in which he could make a mark to any job he wanted or if just liked to scribble all over the board. But either way his scribbly check in line was disrupting the checking in of others so we drew him a marker line that he had to follow to get to his job. 

For yet another student, we added a job.  He loved doing arrival jobs and took them very seriously.  Although he was a kiddo who resisted teacher directives, he never resisted doing his job.  He did, however, resist using the restroom.  He always arrived off the bus with a wet pull up and if we asked him to go to the restroom to change we would get significant behavior. But as soon as a bathroom icon become his arrival job, he started doing it like a champ!!!  

It was a win/win!  He got his pull up changed and his peers could do their jobs without distraction. :)  
You see, it is all about visually structuring and modifying the routine to better meet students’ needs.  It can be exhausting but so worth it when you get the right systems in place for the right kid or when you see a student be extremely independent and successful!
Remember at the beginning of this post I told you I was going to show you the magic that is our classroom? Well...I have only described the first 15 minutes of our day and I am exhausted so that is it for now.  We will resume at 8:15 with my next entry.  

Please note that the highly structured first fifteen minutes of our day sets the tone for the rest of our school day.  It gets the students in organized movement patterns as they see the routine and what is expected of them.  They immediately engage!  There is no down time. There is not a minute to spare as we support our students in gaining skills and making progress!
See you later as we discuss more of our school day and routines! 

Best wishes,