Sunday, February 7, 2016

Organized 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

Dollar Tree Items Turned Work Tasks!

You got to love the Dollar Tree! Here are two of my latest findings, a checkers game and a Care Bear board book.

Okay so neither of them are too exciting however with a little thought and a lot of Velcro you have some pretty great work tasks!  By purchasing 3 copies of any board book you can create a very durable interactive matching book by simply cutting the characters and objects out of two of the books and velcroing them into the third book.

(You have to buy two books for cutting most books, because generally books have characters and objects on both sides of each page and if you cut one side for the object or character, you cut through the object on the other side.

It makes for a really fun matching task that I usually start my students out with if they have limited experience or interest in books because it is very concrete and the child knows when finished is!  Finished is when all the objects or characters in the bowl on the left are put in the book on the right.

And now for the checkerboard, so I have to admit I had the checkerboard game for several months before I could figure out a plan for it.  The kids I typically work with don't have the skills to play the actual game of checkers but I just knew there was a purpose for the game board and tokens and here it is!  All I did was cut the checker board into smaller boards and add Velcro. 

The beauty is that it became a leveled activity for students at the lowest level I present a board with one red and one black square, they have to match the two tokens then they are all done. 

I have students work up to other boards as their ability to comply and attend increases. 

Do you have other games and products that took you awhile to think of a way to make into a work task?  Share your brilliance below as I am sure there are others of us holding on to similar products with no plan for how to simplify them for our students. 

Best Wishes and Happy Work Task Making,  Lindy

Monday, December 21, 2015

Putting it All Into Perspective

Tis' the season for hussle and bussle as the first semester comes to an end with grade cards turned in and happy little students leaving the building with homemade presents for their families in hand. 

You close the classroom door with exhaustion and a little frustration as you had high hopes of  completing the lesson plans and leaving the classroom ready to go for 2016.  But instead you turn off the lights to crumbs left from holiday snacks and a pile of items that need to be done before the students return for another year!

As you walk down the hall, you reassure yourselves, that it will get done.  You can come up after Christmas and the to do list from home is completed as it has been neglected since the school year begun.  Which unfortunately leads you to resent the holiday's festivities with thoughts like, if only I could skip that holiday party, or not wrap those presents then I would have time to get some real stuff done!" 

But instead you put on a smile and head to the party for Christmas cheer, where much to your surprise you realize this is just what your body needed a rejuvenating, time with family and friends full of laughs and good times.   It reminds you of what life is truly about and you realize. . .

Life can get pretty chaotic this time of the year and reminders like this really put things into perspective.  Yes, our jobs are hard, there is always a to do list, and one more thing to do.  But in what other profession do you get two weeks off to re-evaluation, restructure and rejuvenate your life before ringing in the new year. 

So with that thought in mind, I encourage you to take sometime for yourself throughout winter break.  

Whatever is on your to do lists is not as important YOU!  Believe me it can wait.  Your students need your whole body and soul to come back re-energized with the passion, and spirit you enter the profession with so many years ago!

If you need a few more quotes like these to gain prospective or get your positive energy flowing, feel free to print a few or all of these FREEBIES.  To be the positive light in your classroom, and school hang them by your desk, your mirror, your classroom door, the staff lounge, or even the staff bathroom:) 

Cheers to a job well done in 2015 and all that is to come in 2016!

Friday, November 20, 2015

Let's Play Dress Up: Step by Step Visuals for Students Who Struggle at Pretend Play

I am excited to introduce a new tool to use in your pretend play center!  You might remember a few years ago, I shared a social narrative to support students in making various meals at the pretend play center. 

Well, now I have created a similar social narrative to support students in trying on dress up clothes. 

As I have mentioned before, the pretend play center can be pretty abstract and uncomfortable for students who don't understand how to play pretend.  By having social narratives like the two examples above, students can see how to play dress up, step by step!

For example, in this book you can turn each page and have students try on various articles of clothing.  The beauty is that an aided language board is attached to the last page and can be folded out for students who need support in communicating their opinion about each article of clothing they tried on.

Do you want to use this social narrative in the classroom?  Go to my Teachers Pay Teachers store to purchase it, as well as an updated version of the Food Making Visual with choice for students to pretend eat their creations or serve them.  Just one more way to encourage students to interact with one another. 

Also in this Teachers Pay Teachers file you will have access to labels to sort food by food groups and clothing by person!

Until Next Time... Happy Pretending,

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Supporting Self-Regulation: Using a Cool Down Towel

The safe place has always been a tough sell for the students who need it the most.  As the saying goes, what we need the most we resist the most.  

In some cases, students are unaware that they need it, while in other situations when we suggest it, they have a hard time getting there and/or taking our advice.  To support these students, I suggest offering them the choice of a cool down towel. 

A cool down towel can be made with any beach or bath towel, so you can adapt it to the students' special interests, or favorite colors and then incorporate choice.  For example my staff use the phrase, "your body is not calm and quiet let's take a break." Then we offer them a cool down towel by sharing the basket towels with them . . .

Or by saying something like "would you like the Toy Story towel or the Star towel?" 

This gives them some choice so they don't have to give all their power away in a moment when they are already feeling powerless.  Notice that the basket has the phrase we say right on it so all staff can use the same language consistently.  We say it in a calm, caring and non-threatening manner out of respect for the student and to support them in not escalating further.  If needed, we state the choices over and over again in the same calm tone using the parroting technique that we learned through Conscious Discipline.

Next we designate a place for them to sit on their calm down towel or offer them two choices we are okay with, "would you like to cool down in in the library center or by the window?"  Again giving choices, but in a way that we can insure the safety of the whole class. The two choices or designated spot will be a place where other students are not present in that moment and places the child can get to pretty easily as we know in a moment of upset if we ask them to go across the room to a specific place they may hit or throw anything in their path or simply resist the transition all together. 

Think about a time when you were upset, angry or sad, did you go to a place that was designated for you or did you go to the place that felt good in that moment... your car, the hallway, the bathroom or a quiet place in the room were no one was.  It is important to take cues from the student and observe for what might feel best for them in that moment as they may not be able to make those decisions on in their own.  For example, I had a little guy a few years back that would always crawl into a corner beside the art easel.  This space was a way from his peers and felt safe to him so that is where his cool down towel went. 

Once a student has found their space in the moment of upset, they can use the expectations that have been ironed on the towel to support them in using the towel appropriately.  If you are interested in making your own cool down towels click here to get the images. All you have to do is print them on fabric paper and iron them on your beach and/or bath towels! 

NOTE: It is not as much about the space, whether it be a cool down towel, a Safe Place or break area, as it is about teaching students how to use the space.  Just like any other space in the classroom, you must have expectations that both students and staff know and you must teach those when the student is a calm state.  In some situations, you may model their use by using one yourself, or share a video model of how to use them.  

I also iron on an aided language board to the cool down towel:

Just like any other center, students need a way to communicate their wants and needs.  For example, by using the communication board on the towel, students can communicate:  "I'm not ready" "I need a hug" or "I need help." This is especially important for students who are non-verbal or have limited language, however in a moment of upset, we know that all children are less likely to use their words or use them appropriately because they can't access them in that moment.  Think about the last time you were really, really angry, did you use your words appropriately, or did you scream and curse? 

By offering children the words visually, they can express their needs in an appropriate way.  Remember: ALL BEHAVIOR IS COMMUNICATION!  When a child doesn't have the words to say "I feel angry" or "I need help!"  They may communicate those messages by throwing things, tearing down posters in the safe place, or screaming at the top of their lungs.  Yep!  You guessed it, our safe place also has an aided language board and expectations posted:

I think the most powerful words we have to offer children in the moment of rage and upset are "I AM NOT READY!"  I have written two posts prior about this very concept however I do want to mention here that every student's Cycle of Escalation is different and sometimes a student who appears very calm is not yet calm enough to return to classroom activities.  If we ask them to rejoin the group from their cool down towel and they are not ready but have no way to communicate "I am not ready,"  we can restart the cycle making the child more angry and frustrated than before.   To learn more about the Cycle of Escalation, I suggest Colvin and Scott's book Managing the Cycle of Acting Out Behavior in the Classroom.

I want to stress one more point, before I sign off, a student who is upset, whether they are using a Safe Place, break area or cool down towel, needs OUR HELP!  We must stay with them through the process and support them with self-regulation.  When a student is upset, they may be developmentally at the level of a baby or infant, and where do babies and infants go when they need help to self-regulating, they go to the lap or chest of someone who cares greatly for them, someone who is going to make it feel all better!  Now that being said this may look different depending on the age of the child and the situation but in a lot of situations students are looking to us to be calm so they can gain their own calmness.  In the words of Dr. Becky Bailey, this is called downloading calm.  For more information on how to do this I  recommend you check out Dr. Becky Bailey's work at  Her work has laid the foundation for me, my staff and my students, to be more successful. 

Until Next Time, Best Wishes,