Saturday, November 5, 2016

An Inside Look at My Classroom Centers

I often get asked how I keep up with it all!  Sometimes I actually wonder this myself, but I will say one of my key timesavers is the way I organize my classroom centers. 

Each week we focus on a letter and a number.  Each day, we do fifteen to twenty minute rotations at the literacy center, math center, and art center to work on concepts related to the letter and number of the week. 

As you can see in the photos each center is also detailed with a color. Red is literacy, orange is art, and blue is math.  This helps our students know where to go for each activity as the colors are used on the schedules of students who are not yet readers.  

At the literacy center the students practice writing the letter of the week (with the help of Heidi Songs and Handwriting Without Tears concepts).  Then they make and read a story about the letter (with the help of The Printable Princess). Then they identify words that start with the letter (with the help of Crystal McGinnis' I Know My Alphabet Sounds).  These three steps are done using a three drawer worksystem so students know how much work, what work, and when the work is finished as suggested by the TEACCH model.  

Students know that their work is done when they have completed the work in drawers A, B, and C.  For most the drawers themselves are enough for them to understand how much work but for some we add a picture frame to mark off each activity or a match to match icon system for those that need movement, as they stand up and match the icons to the drawers, then bring the contents of the drawer back to table and sit down to work.

Notice that each drawer also has a detailed description of what to do with the contents of the drawer this so staff can support students at each center in a consistent manner.  

But how did we make it simple to switch out materials at the end of the week?  By filing them in a Letter of the Week Bin that is stored on top of the metal cabinet at the literacy center that doubles as a magnetic letter wall and storage for other letter and literacy materials.  

Also inside the bin are letter of the week interactive letter books by Gabriella Dixon from Teaching Special Thinkers for the library center and art projects that are made at the art center each day.   In order to have the materials for the art projects ready for each week, I put them in my staffs' to do tube to work on during free moments a week or two before each letter is the letter of the week.  Then they go in drawer three (the STOP THIS IS FOR TEACHERS drawer) at the art center for future use. 

In drawer one, we have each day's art project and in drawer two we have art choices for the week that  students can play with after they finish each day's art project.  Note on Mondays the students do not have a daily art project as they simply learn how to use and play with the art choices of the week.  Then on Tuesday they do an art project with the capital letter, on Wednesday they do an art project with the lowercase letter and on Friday they make an alphabet zoo letter to add to their alphabet book.  
(On Thursday's our students have the privilege of doing adaptive art with our building's art teacher!)

Note the Friday art projects are stored in a small file system on the cabinet by the art center so we can simply begin alphabetizing each students' book as we complete it page.

That's all I have time for today, but stay tune for how I organize the math center and other classroom areas!

Happy Organizing, 

Thursday, October 20, 2016

A Great Resource: The 2017 Hanen Calendar

Recently, I had the opportunity to preview Hanen’s 2017 Calendar: Building Language and Literacy Through Powerful Conversations.  Wow!  What an opportunity it was! 

The calendar is a great addition to any home or classroom that supports young children with social and communication needs. As stated on the inside cover of the calendar, “quantity of words matter, but the quality of the interaction matters more!”   When we are in the middle of a busy day, this concept can unfortunately be forgotten as we rush to get the students to the next activity, cook supper for our family, or prepare for the next day.

As parents and educators, we can become overwhelmed with daily to dos, shoulds, coulds, and have tos!  The Hanen Calendar is a great way to keep perspective about what really matters, the conversations we have with our students and children.

Each month, the calendar provides strategies for making the most of conversations during daily activities, play time, book reading, and on the go.  

Not only does the calendar provide practical strategies for daily life but it also divides ideas up into to two stages of development: those who are learning to talk, and those who are talking to learn. 

I am so excited to hang the calendar in our class library center this year to help my staff and I stay accountable for quality conversations with all of our students both those who are learning to talk and those who are talking to learn in the literacy center and beyond! 

To purchase a calendar of your own click here! 

When you are over at the Hanen site check out all their other amazing literacy and communication products and be sure to like them on Facebook for updates, training opportunities and so much more!

Until next time best wishes, 

Welcome DEC Participants!

Click below to get the handout and resource page from our session.  

Did you miss the conference?  Click here to learn more about conference.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Meaningful Classroom Jobs in a Special Education Classroom

Now that we are a few weeks into school and things are starting to come together, I want to share a few functional classroom jobs that have been added to our classroom this year!

I have always had classroom jobs but this year I have added a few new ones to the list since I am now working with students from Kindergarten to Fifth grade all day versus preschool students half of a day.  (To see previous posts regarding my preschool jobs click these links: Arrival Jobs, Snack Jobs)

As Dr. Becky Bailey shares through Conscious Discipline, it is important that students have jobs that contribute to something bigger than themselves and this is even more important when working with  special needs students.  Often times students with disabilities are the receivers of help rather than the givers.  By giving students with special needs meaningful jobs they can contribute and begin to realize that they matter!

Let's take a look at a few jobs in our classroom that do just that!

Menu Helper- Students look at the monthly lunch menu and copy what is for lunch on the chalkboard.

NOTE: If a student has the skill of writing and copying but cannot write the entire menu for the day.  We will have them simply copy the main dish or a few items from a white board list.

Students that don't have the skill of writing, simply find the icons for what is for lunch in our alphabetized lunch icon binder and velcro them on a lunch tray that is mounted to our wall with removable mounting tape.

Quote Helper- Students put up the quote of the day on our window facing the hallway.  Higher students google search for a quote or look through quote books to find one they like and then write it on a white board and clip it on the clipboard in the hall.

Students who do not have the skill of searching the internet or a book for information, simply pick a laminated quote out of our quote of the day tub and clip it to the clipboard.

Box Top Counter- Students check our class mailbox for any boxtops and pop tabs that other classrooms have delivered to us.

Then they get the supplies they need off our errand shelf to sort, cut out and count boxtops into sets of 50 so they can be submitted to Box Tops for Education for money!!

For this activity some students match up 50 boxtops on a box top template for one to one correspondence practice, others practice counting 1 to 50 using a number chart and other student who are practicing money match each box tops to dime icons and then total the amount of money the class made.

After counting box tops into sets of 50 the students bag them and deliver them back to the classrooms that 'mailed' them to us, which provides an opportunity for students with special needs to show the contributions they make to our school!

Until next time strive to find meaningful jobs for ALL students!  And remember everyone has something to contribute to our classrooms, our schools and society as a whole:)

Best wishes,  Lindy      

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Work Tasks from Around the House

Check out these functional tasks that are so simple and cheap to make, using old containers around the house (or classroom)!

TASK ONE: A Squeeze Jelly Fine Motor Sort

Could be used as a sorting and fine motor task or a simple fine motor task.  It is just scrap pieces of felt that need to be fed through the lid using a pincer grasp.  

TASK TWO: A Sandwich Assembly Task

Perfect for pretend play in a dramatic play center for younger students or for practical practice of making sandwiches in a life skills class.  I used scrap pieces of felt and old sandwich containers but you could use scrap fun foam too.  

TASK THREE: A Play Dough Can Sort

Great for students, who are tactile defensive to start experience play dough in a nonthreatening way first with just the play dough container and pom-poms.  Then with the play dough container and little balls of play dough to put in, then eventually with any luck actually playing with play dough.

What tasks have you come up with this summer?  Please share below I would love to hear about more tasks I can make out of random things around the house before the school year starts!

Best Wishes, Lindy

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Spice and Seasoning Sorting Tasks

Today I cleaned out the spice cabinet at school and home and found some expired containers to make these gems!!  

I made a black and white sort using old salt and pepper containers.

NOTE:  A cut a slit in the bottom of the salt container so I can get the white pipe cleaners out after the students sort.  

Then I made a color sort with three different colored spice containers.  

NOTE:  It is an assemble task!  The students put all the pipe cleaners in then screw the lids on each container.  

Next I made a size sort using small, medium, and large pipe cleaners.  

A huge thank you to Teri Berkgren for inspiring me to make some new work tasks!  Stay tune for more!

Until next time, best wishes!

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Staff Planning Meetings That Build Relationships!

I was at a training a few months back in which Marceta Flemming Riley, the co-author of Coaching Conversations shared research that a student can make 2 years' progress in 1 year's time, when teams collaborate effectively!

This research got me thinking, as I step back into the classroom next fall, how do I nurture staff relationships, and build trust in such a way that we all work as a team to meet the goals of our students.  I think the first step to teaming, goes back to this quote by James Comer.

Before we develop significant relationships with our students, we must build significant relationships with our staff.  This can be a tough challenge to concur, in situations like mine, in which you are receiving staff from the previous teacher and you only get one staff work day before the kids roll in the next day!  

Yikes!  I get anxious just thinking about it.  But never fear, I have devised a plan!  When I went to observe my future classroom last spring, I gave each paraprofessional as well as the supporting staff (SLPs, OTs, PTs, and School Psychologists) one of these cards.  

On the card, I wrote my name and phone number so each person could text, or call me to set up a time for us to get to know each other and plan for next school year.  

Today is my first meet up with a paraprofessional, I am super excited to see how it goes!  In effort, to support the conversation and ensure that our meet up is beneficial, I have created a list of planning questions that will follow the general 'get to know each other conversation' that we will have at the beginning of our meet up.    

Planning Questions:

  1. What do you find most rewarding about the work that you do?
  2. What do you find most challenging about the work that you do?
  3. Tell me about your role in the classroom.  What talents and strengths do you bring to the classroom?
  4. What activities/subjects do you think you are most effective teaching and supporting (for example: social, leisure and technology or academic subjects such as reading, writing, math and science)?
  5. What grade/cognitive level do you feel most comfortable, capable and effective teaching and supporting (for example: specific grade levels,verbal or non-verbal, mobile or immobile, etc)?
  6. Tell me about three routines, strategies, and/or structures that worked really well in the classroom last year and one that you feel needs  to be restructured or revamped?
Notice, how I have three positives and one negative.  This helps open the conversation without dwelling on what is not working or what we don't have!  By focusing on what we like versus what we don't like, we stay in the positive and can make significant impact on the students we serve.  

As shared by Marceta Flemming Riley,  we all want what is best for kids.  If we keep this perspective in the for front as special education teachers, leaders and case managers, we are able to communicate effectively and work together as a team because we have a common goal in mind!   

In order to save some money on a my tight teacher budget, this year I decide to go with the coffee invites instead of the lunch invites.  Although the staff coffee meet ups are going to cost me one coffee per staff person, I think the benefit of each meet up well outweigh the cost of a cup of coffee!  Each meet up gives my staff and I an opportunity to get to know one another for who we are as individuals before we hit the ground running with students in the fall!  It also gives me an opportunity to learn about their strengths, desires and preferences.  By knowing these characteristics, I will be able to prepare more appropriately for the fall.  

Want to give this staff meet up idea a try for yourself?  Click here to get invites for coffee or lunch with paraprofessionals and other co-workers!

Until Next Time Best Wishes,