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! 

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Demystifying the Use of an Individual Schedule

When I first started teaching special education, individual schedules were a bit of a mystery to me.  I knew my students needed them but I couldn't wrap my head around how to use them in an individual way that was meaningful for each individual and not overwhelming to my staff!  Let's be honest my first year, everyone was on a wall schedule with a check schedule ticket system, including my student who was unable to walk! Looking back I realize how unproductive that was but at the time I didn't know a better way. 

Now I look at each individual student's needs and create a schedule that is meaningful to them.  For example, if I have a student who struggles with transitions, I don't create a wall schedule for them, because that automatically doubles the amount of transitions. Making them have to transition from one activity, to their wall schedule, to the next activity.  Instead I offer them a schedule that is more portable, something like a First-Then Clipboard Schedule, in which they transitions from one activity to the next, rather than going from one activity to their schedule, then to the next.

That being said, I would use a wall schedule for a student who needs opportunities for movement so that I am able to provide them opportunities to move in an organized fashion.  I would strategically place their wall schedule in a calm space in the classroom that they can call their own.  A place they can go to take a few deep breaths and re-group before join the next activity.  In turn staggering their transition just enough so that they misses the mass chaos of all the preschoolers in the room transitioning to their next activities. 

If this process is tricky for them at first, I could provide visuals on their check schedule tickets.  Depending on what makes the transition difficult for them, I might offer them a check schedule ticket that reminds them of the expectations when checking their schedule: QUIETLY WALK TO YOUR SCHEDULE or I might simply offer them a check schedule ticket that reminds them to take a deep breath. 

This is how it works. . .each time the student gets a check schedule ticket, they go to their wall schedule, put the ticket in the library pocket by the top of their schedule and take the next schedule icon off their schedule.  That icon is then matched up to a matching icon in the classroom of the space they have been asked to go to next. For example if the icon on their schedule was of social small group they would match it to the icon in social small group

This matching up technique is used whether a student is using a wall schedule or a clipboard schedule, it is truly the key to success.  By matching icon to icon, it is very clear what space we are asking the students to go to.  It takes the emotions out of it!  For example, I am no longer the 'bad guy' saying go to the art table, instead the schedule is telling the student to go to the art table. 

As you notice in the picture above there is a Velcro dot on top of the matching icon as well as the one on the backside.  This is so the match up spot can be used more than once.  I don't want the students to see a teacher take off the previous matched icon so they can match their icon because then the student starts to think, what is the point the teachers are just going to take my icons off.  It would be like your administrator deleting an entire IEP you had written before your very eyes... you would start to think what is the point!?!?  Matching up is hard work for kids and we really need to notice and celebrate their efforts, especially in the beginning when the system is new to them and transitioning is tough. 

Which is also why I usually choose to use a match to match Velcro system rather than a library pocket for my kiddos to put their icons in.  Putting an icon in a library pocket takes more hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills, which are both skills we work on with our students but not skills I want them to get frustrated with when they are trying to match up and transition to the next activity.

It is all about thinking through the process.  One other tip I have found along the way, is the importance of being strategic about where we place the icon to be matched to.  For example if the dramatic play icon is on the outside of the dramatic play area, a student could potentially MATCH AND RUN!  If the icon to match to is in the back of the center, then the student has to actually walk into the center to match up, which will then help them see items in the center and more likely engage with the activities and peers in the space rather than matching and running!

It is all about asking ourselves what we want, take the art center for example, if I put the icon on the art shelf the students could potentially match to the art shelf and run off, if instead I put the icon to match to on the chair itself, I might have better results as that is what I want.  I want the student to match up and sit down to listen to the art lesson for the day.

Wow that was a lot and all I have time for today!  Like me on Facebook so you have access to my next post: 10 Tips for Teaching Students and Supporting Staff to Use Individual Schedules in a Meaningful Way!

See you soon, Lindy