Sunday, May 8, 2016

Tips for Home Visits

Whether you do home visits as a way to initially get to know a student and build rapport with their family or as an ongoing way to supporting programming and student and family goals, the benefits of home visits are irreplaceable.  

By being in the home, you get an inside look at what life is like for your students and their families.  There have been many occasions where I thought I knew what it was like, but when I went to the home my perspective changed.  I saw the student differently which brought up new conversations, ideas and possible goals for the student.  The reality is that we only see 6 to 7 hours of our students day at school.  There is so much that goes on outside of school. By seeing the full picture, we can support the student more effectively in regard to social, leisure, adaptive, and communication goals.  

So what might a home visit look like? Well if I am doing a visit as a way to initially meet the student and the family, it looks different than if I am visiting to support programming on a regular basis.  I have done both versions of home visiting, both with their own benefits.  In my experience it really depends on the families needs and comfortable level as to which version of home visiting will be most effective for each individual family.

If I am going out as a way to get to know the family, I have very little agenda as I have found it helpful to let the student/family lead the visit.  I truly take the time to understand the family, and the student.  Some families absolutely run with this idea sharing everything from birth to the present about their child, however other families are a little more reluctant to share, in which case I have these questions stored away in my head to support the visit.  

In the beginning, I used these questions like an interview but as I became more comfortable with home visiting, I began to be more flexible with there use.  Over the years, I have come to realize that many families want to share their story. By being an active listener with just a few simple questions in mind, I gain more information and rapport from the conversation.  That being said, each family is unique! Their culture and experiences make them who they are so I try not to go in with any preconceived notions. 

If the family has less to share or seems a little uncomfortable to share, I start by sharing our classroom handbook (click here to see a sample) and introduce the family to my staff with a flyer that shares photos of the important people that will be working with their child.  

I might also start playing and interacting with their child, this seems to loosen the visit up, as the family begins to see me as someone that cares for and 'gets' their child.  I usually do this by following the students lead. For example, if the student is spinning the wheels of his big monster truck, I join him by doing the same with another truck or vehicle.   This interaction can also lead to conversation with the family. As I play, I can ask questions like "Johnny seems to really enjoy monster trucks, what else does he play with around the house?"  This question can then lead to the families thoughts about play and how to support Johnny during leisure and social activities.  

So what does it look like if I am going into the home for regular sessions to support programming and student goals?  The answer depends on the student and the family.  Sometimes the sessions are very specific to the needs that the family has for the home, for example I have helped families organize their children's play spaces, helped with feeding, potty training, sleep patterns, playing with siblings and communication.  In whatever way the family needs help, I try my best to support them with resources, ideas, strategies and visuals.  For example if the family is working on potty training, I might offer them books from my resource library (my favorite toilet training book is 'Toilet Training for Individuals with Autism or Other Developmental Issues by Maria Wheeler')  or links via email to sites like TEACCH Autism Program.  (NOTE: If the family doesn't have internet I print these types of resources.) Then together we might come up with visuals to support bathroom time and/or have conversations about ways to make bathroom routines doable at home.  

The key is to LISTEN to the needs of the student and family and support them in a way that is doable in their everyday lives.  It is easy to make suggestions or offer books and resources to families but sometimes that is more than they can handle.  Sometimes they, like all of us, are just trying to survive. By adding one more thing we add undo stress which leads to feelings of overwhelmingness and limited progress!  

In some situations, the family doesn't have any specific home goals or they aren't sure what the next steps should be, in which case I bring items from the classroom and show them examples of what we are working on at school.  For example with a little guy that was working on engaging at classroom circle time, I brought in a towel, stuffed animal, and parachute language board to play 'parachute' with.   

A classroom parachute was in the plans for circle time the following week, so by bring in a smaller version of the same parachute game, the student could begin to experience the activity in the calm and comfortableness of his home.  As I modeled how to play and use the communication board, the family was able to see how they could engage their child and engage him ways that were similar to the engagement he would experience at school. Which in turn, supported his success with circle time the following week as I left the activity for the family to play with until I returned a few weeks later.  

To support families with next steps and help everyone involved be more accountable, prior to leaving each session we fill out this Home Visit form.  

I leave the form with the family as well as any resources, visuals, or activities we did together during the visit.  Before I leave I take a screenshot of it with my phone so I have it for reference and can put it in the student's school file.  

That is all for today!  Happy Home Visiting,

Monday, April 18, 2016

Lego Work Tasks: for Early Building, Play and Sorting

The post I had planned for today is taking a bit longer to put together than I had anticipated, so I figured what better way to fill the We Teach Sped slot than with a simple work task post!  So here goes. . . Six Building Task!

1. Duplo Lego Build Sorting by Color-

2. Duplo Lego Build Sorting by Size-

NOTE: By attaching rough velcro to the bottom of one lego of each color and size and creating a lego tray with Sterilite Storage Trays, hot glue and soft velcro, you are able to make one task that has multiple ways to build and sort: by color, by size and by color and size!  

Also note by using Duplo Legos you can reach and teach learners who are in the early stages of play and /or have limited fine motor skills.  Duplos are much easier to hold and build with for little hands, however the same task can be made for more mature hands using traditional Legos.

3. Lego Build Sorting by Color

4. Lego Build Sorting by Size

5. Lego Build Sorting by Color and Size

Note for these tasks all you need is a one piece of cardboard, a large lego platform, a bowl or can to put the legos in and a hot glue gun to put them together.  By putting them together the task stays together making it easier for students to organize their work task space.

Also note with the help of the Dollar Bins at Target, the Duplo Lego sorting container can serve another purpose as a building block sort!  I purchased these blocks at the beginning of the school year, so if you can't find them you might check the Dollar Bins when it gets closer to next school year.  When all the back to school goodies are out:)

6. Building Block Sort by Color

That is all for today, 6 easy building tasks at various levels.  
Until Next Time, Happy Building!!

Friday, April 8, 2016

'Tree'mendous Recycling Work Basket

I am so excited to share my latest Dollar Tree find a recycling sticker set!  Great for Earth Day!

To ensure that the stickers could be reused, I laminated them with laminate paper and packing tape.  (Most of the stickers fit on one laminate sheet, rather than waste another sheet of laminate I packing taped the remaining 5.)

I then cut an opening in each recycling container's lid and attached an envelope to the back of each for sorting.  

And there you have it a great recycling task with multiple levels ...

Level 1- A Simple Put In  (There is only one can and the items that go in that can so a student who doesn't have the ability to sort recycling items yet and can be successful as all they have to do is put the items in the recycling bin, a great fine motor task!)

Level 2- A Put in with Some Pictures that Do Not Belong (I mixed a few other recycling items that aren't plastic in the bowl, students put them in the don't belong container as they find them.  Depending on the students level the pictures that don't belong may need to be more different than just another recycling item for example star or animal stickers.)

Level 3- Sorting Two Types of Recycling

Level 4- Sorting More Recycling Items In the photo below, I am featuring sorting all four types (paper, compost, aluminum, and plastic) but you could easily sort three types too.

And then a bonus!  Some FREE printable checklists I created to support students who need visual supports to help them sort!  (There is a checklist for sorting one item (from items that don't belong), two items and four items.  I simply printed them and put them in page protectors for students to use with a dry erase marker.  

Then I created this quick reference sheet for students who are readers but don't yet have the concept of what recycling goes where.  They can simply read the color coded chart to see where items go.  

Click here to access these printables, and head out to Dollar Tree to get the Learning to Recycle sticker set so you can get this workbasket already for Earth Day!

Until next time, Best wishes!

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Confessions of a Perfectionist

As some of you know, I had seizure a few weeks back that landed me in Cardiac ICU for a few days.  I am not telling you this to get your empathy or to have you worry about me but rather to send a message and remind you to slow down. Life is short!

As educators, we live in a world of helping and caring for others.  It can be easy to go and go and go as there are so many students to help and there is so little time to do it.  But the reality is if we don't take time to help and care for ourselves, we cannot be emotionally available to help others.  We can only be as good for others as we are to ourselves.  

For many years, I have been going and going without thinking about the toll it has put on my body.  My focus has been on being the BEST teacher, mother, wife and friend I could be and unfortunately in that order.  For years, I have let my job define me.  If I had an IEP due or a big presentation I needed to complete, those tasks took precedence, and in my mind they had to be done with 100% perfection. Whether that meant missing quality time with my children or ordering out instead of making supper for my family, I HAD to complete each task with perfect success. This only added to the stress of feeling imperfect because while giving all my energy to being ‘perfect’ professionally, I wasn’t being ‘perfect’ in my personal life as wife, mom and friend.  It is like I was juggling two balls at all times: a professional one, as teacher, co-worker, and colleague and a personal one as mom, wife, and friend. 

Leading up to the seizure, my TASN ATBS team and I were hosting day five of Kansas' Early Childhood Academy.  Things were going very well with my ‘professional ball’ when all of a sudden I stood up, let out a screech, and fell to the floor in a seizure, with no warning signs.  I personally don't remember the event itself. Instead I remember the disbelief, embarrassment, shame and sadness that followed the moments and days afterward.  

I had dropped a ball!  A ball I didn't even have in my possession!  The ball that encompassed taking care of myself.  Remember how I said there were no warning signs; well in hindsight, the warning signs were flashing loud and clear.  I had not been taking care of myself.  I wasn't sleeping, eating, exercising or finding joy in the little things in life, I was truly just going through the motions of 'being perfect'.

My whole life I have been striving for this image of 'perfect' that was in my head, which eventually took its toll.  At the ripe old age of 35, I had anxiety out the roof, feelings of not enough-ness, and depression so bad it hurt and that is when it hit, a seizure and a three-day stay in the hospital that changed how I think about everything.  

I am not perfect nor should I ever strive to be perfect.  The harder I tried to be perfect and good for others the more miserable I became.  The reality is, I can only be as good for others as I am to myself, which is a hard pill to swallow after years of thinking that taking time for myself was weak, selfish and unnecessary.  The reality is it is all about balance!  Balancing myself within my personal and professional life.

My job can no longer define me.  My mission is no longer to be ‘perfect’ but instead to be perfectly happy with being imperfect.  I don’t have to complete that IEP with extreme precision, or develop a presentation that is better than any I have done before.  Nor does my house have to be clean every moment or do I have to make the cutest holiday treats for the kids at home and school.  Instead I can spend the energy it takes to appear ‘perfect’ on the outside to find balance on the inside. 

A concept that is much easier said then done, but one I am willing to work on and one I hope you are willing to work on too BECAUSE YOU MATTER! Like I said at the beginning of this post, as educators we live in a world of helping others.  In the midst of the day-to-day tasks of teaching and support students it is easy to lose ourselves, as we strive to be perfect, when in reality perfection is not the goal. The goal is to be honorable human beings that model balance and a well-rounded life of joy to our students and those around us.  If we are always going and striving for the next best thing, then those around us will do the same, but if we strive for balance and the ability to be present with ourselves and those we care about, then our students and children will learn the life lesson that knocked me on the floor in a full out seizure. . . It is okay to be imperfect and it is okay to take time for yourself!

With that I encourage you to join me on a journey to find balance by taking care of ourselves and be perfectly okay with being imperfect in all aspects of life both personally and professionally.  

More to come . . .


Sunday, February 7, 2016

Organizing Targeted Instruction

In recent years, there has been a lot of push for educators to use a tiered approach to instruction.  What does that look like in your classroom?  How do you give each student the instruction that they need both academically and socially?

It can be extremely difficult to individualize and group instruction in a way that is effective for ALL students. Especially when you are feeling short on resources, time and staff.  But it doesn't have to be as tough as it seems.  It is all about being creative and strategic, as you create your space, organize your staff, and plan your schedule!

Let's start by creating a space.  You want the space to be small with limited distractions so students can focus on the skills you are working on. 

It is important that you organize the space in away that the students can attend to instruction and not other activity that is happening around the room. 

You also want to organize the space in away that the students know how much work they have to do.  For example, for math and literacy small groups on the floor, I have used these visual work systems that I put in clear plastic frames and then marked off each step as we completed it with a dry erase marker. 

The visual systems matched the space as I organized a fabric box system accordingly.  The students knew finished was when they completed all three fabric boxes for their subject area.   

So how do the individualized and small group spaces fit into the flow of the classroom, what are other students, and staff doing while you teach targeted small group or individualized one on one instruction?  In my situation, the other students are participating in free play that is facilitated by my staff while I pull specific students to work on the skills they need more practice with. 

The beauty is that every student gets what they need!  Some students joined me for small group at the beginning of free play and others joined me for a small group at the end of free play.  

Between each group I finish my data collection and organize the space for the next group. Data collection is a vital piece in knowing which students need what, so you can make data-based decisions and continue to provide meaningful instruction through targeted small groups or on an individual basis depending on what the students need. 

To learn more about delivering  various types of instruction in organized ways click the following links:

Social Small Group
Math Small Group
Literacy Small Group
Direct Instruction

Until next time, best wishes!

Thursday, February 4, 2016

10 Tips for Implementing Effective Individual Schedule

As promised, today I will be adding to my last post Demystifying the Use of an Individual Schedule with 10 Tips for Implementing Effective Individual Schedules.  

1. Use transition items that are meaningful to each individual student-  For example, if a student is at a concrete level than objects maybe most meaningful to them, where as a student with strong literacy skills may be able to use a schedule with icons or words. 

2. Have a place for students to match their transition items-  For example, they may stick their icon in a library pocket, plastic recipe box or match it up with Velcro.   The medium you choose is not as important as the routine itself.  By having a place to put transition items, students transition with purpose.  They know they have to transition to the matching space in the classroom which supports success and eliminates behavior because they know the expectation. 

3. Help students know when finished is-  For example, finished is when all the icons have been matched and the only one left is the home icon, or the student has flipped to the last page of their flip schedule which has a bus on it and is the longest page in the schedule to help the student realize they are getting closer to finished with each page flip.  Finished with an object schedule might be when all the objects are gone from an object schedule basket and the only thing left is a picture of mom and a house at the bottom of the basket.  Knowing when finished is and seeing themselves getting closer and closer to finished reduces student anxiety as they can visually see when their school day will be over. 

4. Make the schedules easy to re-assemble-  Nothing is worse than having to put schedules together at the end of a busy day when the schedules take 30 minutes to set up for the following day.  In our classroom, we had extra icons and photos in a draw system as well as an extra icon bin that staff could put used icons or icons that were inevitably laying around the classroom in to be re-used on schedules at the end of the day or sorted back into the drawer system.  We also attached lists by or on student schedules that were helpful to refer to throughout the day and when reassembling schedules at the end of the day. 

5. Keep schedules simple- If the student doesn't need a match to match schedule, and they can make sense of it, use a schedule where you can simply mark items off or flip the page so you don't have to re-assemble the schedule each day after school.   

6. If needed use student strengths and interests-  For example, I had a kiddo in my class one year that was a very concrete thinker but an object schedule just wasn't speaking to her.  Although we had places for her to place each object, she couldn't grasp what we were expecting her to do with the objects.  She would throw them, or drop them on the floor even after several weeks of training and modeling.  Puzzles were a strength for this little gal.  They made sense to her so we used two piece wood puzzles for her objects to match.  One piece of the puzzle was mounted in the area she was transitioning to and the other was in her schedule book bag that she wore for sensory input from one activity to the next.  It became a listening activity for her, as staff would direct her to get the next piece out of her book bag and match up.  It was perfect she understood the concept of matching up immediately when the objects were switched to the two piece puzzles.   She become independent with transitions and following directions!

7. Make the schedule all in one- If a student has a reinforcement system or a communication support include it with their schedule.  It will be less for the student and staff to manage and keep track in turn making everyone more successful as the student begins to see the importance of their system and take ownership of carrying it around and using it as a support or reinforcement.  

8. Teach students their schedule- Whether it is with a video model, a social narrative, or through simple modeling, students need to know how their schedule works and what is expected of them.  Below is an example of a video model my son helped me with that we used with a student who had a really hard time transitioning from iPad time (a highly preferred activity) to independent work (a non- preferred activity).  We used the video clip to training the little guy to transition without behavior and frustration.  

9. Train staff members on how and why the schedule works- Often times we tell staff what to do with students or even worse assume they already know what to do.  When training staff about individual schedules we have to tell them why we are asking them to do what they are doing.  If they don't know why, amongst the craziness of the school day, they may fall back on bad habits of physically leading a student to their next activity or arguing with a student when they refuse to transition.  I will be honest, in the beginning individual schedules can be hard, the student may rebel, throw their icon, or try to escape but if we are consist with our expectation and leave our emotions out of it, we can teach the student a better way.  If we teach the schedule to our students AND OUR STAFF the message will be clear: schedules help everyone! They reduce anxiety and support independence, making the job of staff members much easier.

10. Continuously monitor and assess the schedules effectiveness- If the schedule is not working for a specific student restructure or reteach it!

And always remember that a student's schedule should work for them on their very worst day.  I like to think of it as their navigational system, it tells them where to go when, much like the GPS in your car.  You may not need it all the time but it is there when you do!

So there you have 10 tips to Implementing Effective Individual Schedules.  

Until next time, best wishes!