Saturday, September 16, 2017

Student Self Selected Reading

We all have it, those moments during the day where are classrooms are still. The students are attending to a task, the adults are quiet and for that one small moment, maybe 15 seconds, we can take a breath.

What would you do if you could block out 15-25 minutes everyday just for that? Time to take a step back and just breathe. Think about all of the things you could get done. Think about the skills you would be instilling in your students. Keep reading to see how I am able to achieve 15 minutes of peace in my classroom each day. **Disclaimer: I love my students and staff, the rest of the day is amazing. There is just something about this 15 minutes that calms me down.

A few years ago I attended a training about Emergent Literacy for students with significant needs (you can read more about that here). During part of the training the presenter spoke about self selected reading. At that time I thought to myself, actually I stated it to those around me, how the heck am I supposed to get my students reading independently? They struggle to attend to tasks with a lot of engagement and prompting let alone tasks that require them to engage themselves. But the more I looked into it and the more I practiced it with my students I realized it wasn't so much about them "reading" independently but more about them selecting their own reading materials and exploring them. When I made this switch I realized how valuable this skill is.  

So, how is it done? The first thing I would suggest is getting reading materials that all of your students are able to access. You can choose traditional books, big books, adapted books or online material (Raz-Kids and Tar Heel reader are our favs). If you are struggling to build your library due to cost (lets face it, books are expensive and kids handling them tend to make their lifespan much shorter) consider hitting up garage sales, your local library, family/friends or my favorite a retired/retiring teacher. Don't think you need to have a Pinterest worthy library to get started. As long as you have at least 3-5 books for each student you are golden. 

Once you have your books, set up an area that is dedicated to self-selecting reading. This allows your students to gain an understanding of what the space and materials are used for. You can have a large or small space depending on how your classroom is designed. I would suggest that the space is inviting and offers many seating options (my district is all about Next-Gen and flexible learning spaces/seating) so students are comfortable and feel like they have  a voice and choice of everything during this time. This is what my space looks like this year. I don't have traditional style seating in my classroom for whole group instruction so I have a lot of bean bags and easy to move chairs that we/the kids can use if necessary so please don't mind the mess :).

Here is what our book selection area looks like, I have it marked as the "Self Selected Reading" area so the students know (grab that here). I also make sure to have our Rules posted (grab those here), a chart that lets the students/adults know what level the kids can pick from (grab that here) and I have a visual that shows the different options the kids have during Self Selected Reading time (grab that here). 

As you can see the section on the right has leveled bins. I wasn't expecting some of my readers to be reading above an F so please excuse the miss matched labels 😬.  What I did differently this year was make sure to have both upper and lowercase letters on the label as some of my students can only identify uppercase at this time. I have also put the same label on the bottom right corner of the book. I also have a section on the left for adapted book bins. These are not leveled and I allow any of my students to read these as they are a great way for the kids to stay engaged. 

This year I am really diving into the ULS (Unique Learning System) curriculum for reading. I wanted a way to display the supplemental reading materials to go along with each unit so I got this book display. I have taught students/adults that these books all have a red dot on the corner (red to match the display stand) and to look for the level. If the level is above their reading level I still encourage them to select a book from here (as it goes along with our unit) but they will need to ask an adult for help.

So now that you have a space and materials it's time to get the kids reading. Plan out a block in your day for self selected reading. I currently have 15 minutes and put it at the end of my reading block. Be intentional about this time and teach/model exactly what you want the students to do. You can even consider reading each day with them. Grab your favorite book, pull up a comfy cozy and indulge. I personally use this time to get materials ready for the next lesson, conference with students and pull students for a quick lesson (still allowing time for them to do some self-selected reading).

**This is a Google Image. I do not take credit or own this photo.
This will consider some mind shifting. You will have to be okay with kids self-selecting and attending/exploring vs. independent reading. You will have to be okay with kids waving the adapted book you just spent time laminating and assembling. As time goes on the kids will learn. I have students with significant cognitive, behavioral and physical needs and we do this. You can do this!!! One of my students took part in this everyday last year. It wasn't clicking and he needed a lot of support but this year, he is able to look, open and even point and vocalize while looking at the book independently 😁.

My biggest piece of advice is to let you know it takes time. This is not going to look pretty the first day, month maybe even a year. But, think about how valuable this is. If your students develop this skill they will be able to visit and be socially accepted in a library, coffee shop etc. There parents/care givers could throw in a load of laundry or use the bathroom without having to worry about what their child is doing.

So take a step back, implement self selected reading and take a moment to breathe!!!!

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Sunday, September 10, 2017


Project Based Learning or PBL is the new craze. It is all about student led and future focused. When I first heard about PBL I was a little skeptical. I thought it was awesome and a great way for general education students to work on communication, collaboration, creativity and critical thinking but I was still stumped on how our students with significant needs were going to be able to do this. If you are still a little confused on what PBL is all about here is a great graphic to show the difference between projects and PBL's.

My school is a PBL school and all of us are required to either teach or help with a PBL project each year. Last year I teamed up with our speech paths and we had the kids plan a party to thank all of their friends for helping them throughout the year. While it was a great project and the kids had fun I really wanted to do something more this year. Keep reading to see the project I have planned for this school year.

When thinking about planning a PBL project in my severe needs special education class I knew things where going to have to be a little different. Instead of allowing the students free reign I was going to have a provide a lot of scaffolding and allow for the "student led" and "voice and choice" to come through during teacher driven activities. Even though this isn't traditional PBL....our classrooms are not traditional and as long as we are trying that's all that matters.

So, what do I have planned for this year? We all know questioning is a huge part of our special education classrooms. Almost all of my students have some sort of "wh" question goal. So, why not teach these through a fun and engaging PBL?

Drumroll please..... our PBL project is called "Dream Vacation". I am going to have the kids plan their dream vacation. Throughout this project students will learn all about the "wh" question words.  I am planning on only doing this project on Friday's so it will more than likely take us to winter break. I made this bulletin board and plan on hanging our anchor charts up once we have learned about a specific "wh" question word.

Our launch item will be this Arthur episode. The hope is that it will get kids to start thinking about vacations.

After this I plan to have the kids branch off and watch some videos on different vacation spots. I have some bookmarked showing skiing, swimming, hiking, amusement parks etc. The paras will have a sheet to help the students mark down their favorites. I am then going to have them take it home and have them work with their parents to narrow down what they would like to do.

Then each week we will focus on a different "wh" word. They will have to explain "who" is going on the vacation, "where" they are going, "when" they will go, "what" they will do, "how" they will get there and "why" they think it's a good trip.

Through learning about the "wh" question words we will start to build their "Dream Vacations". The goal is at the end of the PBL students will be able to showcase their dream vacation. A huge part of PBL's is the public product. I am thinking the kids can create a video, brochure or set up a little area that resembles their vacation. I would love to invite their families, our administration and community members in to see what they came up with. Make sure to check back throughout the year to see how this PBL is shaping up.

While attending a PBL conference this summer one major thing stuck with me; PBL's are messy. Don't be afraid to dive in and let the student's take the lead. So, no matter how much my type A personality wants everything to line up perfectly I have to let it go. In the end everyone will learn more and grow.

Do you do PBL in your classroom? What projects have you done?

If you are interested in learning more about PBL make sure to check out The Buck Institute for Education does all things PBL and has a ton of information and pre-made projects listed.
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Monday, August 14, 2017

Student Schedules

Schedules! Hearing the word just makes me anxious. So many things go into making the perfect schedule. I know everyone's classrooms run differently but I can tell you that I do not have a self contained room. All of my students are assigned to a general education classroom and then come to me for reading, writing and math.....some do end up staying with me all day with the exception of specials and recess. So... that means I have to build my schedule around 4-5 general education teachers schedules. It can be a nightmare. However, once I figure it out I really do enjoy creating the physical schedules for my students. Keep reading to see the different types of schedules I have in my classroom.

When making schedules keep your students in mind. While there may be some super cute schedules at Target or on TPT but ask yourself, "Is this really appropriate for my students?" Not all students have to have the same type of schedule. For instance, this year in my classroom I am going to have 8 students (the lowest I have ever had!) and 4 different types of schedules.

The first schedule is for my highest functioning students. They struggle with reading but are able to follow routines. I made an outline of their day on a single page. There is a picture to help with reading the schedule and a place for them to check off with a pencil when they have finished the task. They are also working on telling time so I made sure to add that to their schedule as well. I will print these in black and white, hole punch them and add a stack in their binder (that they will carry with them to and from classes). On the back side I have left a space for notes home and notes to school. This will serve as the daily communication component for these students. If you didn't need the daily communication part you could print the schedule in color, laminate or slip in a page protector and have the students check off with a dry erase marker.
The second schedule I have is for my middle group. This schedule will include a little more prep but is the best for this group of students. This group is able to read and/or understand what the next subject is but needs a little more visual supports when knowing that the task is over and what is coming up next. I have made enough pages to include all of their schedule icons for the day. Some students have more pages than others depending on how much they are doing throughout the day. For this I printed in color, laminated and then added velcro. The student will check their schedule (located in a binder) and complete the task. Once finished the student will pull off the icon and put it on the back of the page (I added velcro there too) or put it in a finished bin/pouch. They will then look at their schedule and move onto the next item. For this schedule book I decided to only have a few schedule components on each page so that it isn't too overwhelming for this group of students. 

The third and fourth schedule I have made are similar in concept but stored in different ways, it is for my most complex learners. I made a color coded schedule (below you can see the color template) that will be housed in a binder or on the way (depending on student need/level). Each student has their own color and will check their schedule, pull off the task, locate the matching large schedule piece in the classroom and attach the little schedule piece to the big piece. This allows the students to not only know what is coming next but is concrete enough for them to understand that where they put the piece is the location in which they will be completing the task. Since I have a few students using this model and have a color coded system I decided to have the main schedule piece in white and then have the student corresponding colors on the bottom. That way they each have their own dedicated space at the center.

**Hint: make a schedule guide so you, your paras or even your students can reset the schedule at the end of the day if needed.
There are many other types of schedules you could set up. For example you could have a google calendar with alarms, write it out on post-its, have an entire page filled with a weeks worth of tasks for the students to check off when completed. You could also use actual objects for a schedule, first then schedule (very basic and limited visual stimulation). These are just a few examples. Do you have any different types of schedules you use in your classroom?

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Monday, July 17, 2017

Core Vocabulary Ideas

Giving students access to language is one of the biggest things we can do as special educators. Even though we are not speech and language pathologist so much of what our students need revolves around communication. Can you imagine not being able to communicate basic wants and needs? Can you imagine not being able to tell someone who may be annoying you to go away lol? Well....consider teaching core vocabulary in your classroom and provide access in a variety of ways.

Here are a few ways to embed core vocabulary into your day.

1) Shared reading- take what you are already doing and put focus on core vocabulary. I use Unique Learning System in my classroom and use this approach when reading the monthly stories. The kids love it and it allows all of my students to participate and be exposed to a wide range of language. Here is an awesome video (from that explains how to use big core during shared reading. If you haven't ever visited their website I strongly encourage you to. It is filled with tons of information!


2) Snack Time- Now, I will be the first person to say that I do not allow my students to earn food as a reinforcer throughout the day (if you do, no judgement, I just don't) but snack time is already built into our schedule. Who doesn't love snack time. Consider building core into this time by having visuals of common used words such as; more, please, eat, want, who, where, what, all done. Model using the cards/high tech AAC device/oral language so that your students start to understand. Here are some go to phrases (these can vary depending on the level of your students, the more language they acquire the more you should model);
        - Go get food
        -You want more?
        -What do you want?
        -That looks/tastes yummy!
        -Where is it?
        -You all done eat/drink?
        -You open
        -Help drink/eat
        -Want different?
        -I like/not like it

*Google image, I take no credit for this

3) Play/Choice time- Even though the students have already earned the choice make them ask for it. They can request items they have earned/want. Here are some phrases students/teachers can use.
      -I want toy
      -Here you go
      -I/you want to play?
      -Tell me
      -Help please
      -Open please
      -More time

*Google image, I take no credit for this

3) Fine Motor- Pull pieces from your big core board or make separate visuals and place them in a sensory fun bin. Some examples are rice, beads, pasta, sand and string. The kids can "fish" around for the pieces and either place them on a board, find the matching word on their AAC device or show understanding of the word by doing what it says. For example if the word is open, they can open a container. And then go "fishing" again. I have a student who is learning sign language so when she pulled these out she showed us the sign.

4) Math Instruction- A lot of my students are working on very basic math concepts. Pair core vocabulary cards with verbal directions. (Read more about hands on math activities here)

5) Videos- Use these for direct instruction or a quick transition. My students love videos so this is perfect. We (my SLP's always find the best videos!) used this video to help with teaching "no".

6) Adapted Books- Always one of my favorites. Put out some adapted/symbolated books that allow students to look at text and manipulate the symbols. Here is a FREE book from Teach.Love.Autism to get your collection started. You can also check out this website, they have a lot of free symbolated books. 

I hope this sparked your interest in incorporating core vocabulary into your day OR if you are already using core hopefully this gave you some more ideas. Do you have any additional ways that you incorporate core into your day?

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Monday, June 12, 2017

IEP Goals for Students with Significant Needs

Have you ever looked at IEP goals for a particular student and thought "how the heck are they going to achieve this?" or "What was I thinking when I wrote this?"

When it comes to working with students with significant needs these are questions you may find yourself asking over and over. No worries, I do too. Even when it comes to writing IEP goals I see so many things the student needs to work on but it doesn't align with the common core.

Today I am here to share with you some ideas for goals I have written for my students with significant needs. Most of these students are non-verbal, severely cognitive impaired and may have physical and/or behavioral needs.

*Disclaimer- Every district has different expectations for IEP goal and objective writing. Make sure to check with your team before implementing any of these goals.

Reading Goals:
For reading I focus a ton on core vocabulary. Let's face it, our students with significant needs need to work on functional communication. Why not have them read and comprehend functional words? Don't get me wrong, I think students need to be exposed to literature and have access to all types of books but for an actual goal lets make it functional!!!

Here is an example of a core vocabulary "phonics" goal and objectives.
Here is an example of a core vocabulary "comprehension" goal and objectives.
How do these fit into the common core? In Michigan we have Essential Elements and a range of complexity. Here is the Essential Element I chose for this goal. The gray area is the general education standard and then the white areas are broken down into high, medium and low.

Writing Goals:
Ahh!!! Writing, I dread it!! Come on now, how can writing be functional right? Is focusing on sentence structure, revising and editing really something that my students should be working on? Honestly, yes reality it is really difficult when our students should be learning how to hold a pencil correctly and making a signature mark.

I will be honest, for writing I mostly tag onto the OT goals for fine motor. But here is an example of a goal and objectives. (The students first and last name start with L).

CCSS is listed in gray and the essential element is listed in yellow. This particular strand doesn't offer a range of complexity like reading.

Math Goals:
Students can work on so many things during math instruction. A lot of my students continue to practice using core vocabulary during math by working on put on/put in tasks. But here is an example of a very functional goal I wrote. The student needed to practice using the microwave and becoming independent with heating up his food. So I added a color coded system to help support this.
Michigan Essential Element

The big thing with writing goals for our students with significant needs is that we need to think outside of the box. Write goals that are truly going to help them in their future. For example, while learning 2+2 is important how does that really help us in our lives?

What types of goals have you written?

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Saturday, May 27, 2017

Unique Inclusion Opportunities

Do you love the idea of inclusion but your students struggle to go into the general education setting? Are you looking for more peer to peer interactions?

This is something I am always trying to do. Having general education peers involved in a special education students school day is extremely important. For the most part (there are always exceptions) general education students provide the perfect modeling example for students with special needs. Our students are able to see and hear typical language development and proper social interactions. They are forced to use the skills we have been working on in the classroom. Here are a few ways to get general education and special education students together throughout the school day.

1)Start a peer to peer program. These are awesome. At our school we call it STAR (Students Talking and Relating). General education students who are interested in learning more about disabilities are able to join. Each week we have a lunch group and the students learn about different situations that may arise and how to handle them. An example would be a non verbal student using an AAC device or sign language. How do you interact with them? What are some ways to include them in the group etc. Then the students get to practice these skills throughout the week.

2)Invite general education students into your classroom. Have weekly game time or dance parties. It doesn't have to be long or involve a lot of planning. This is just a way to get peer role models into an environment in which your students are comfortable.

3)Ask your specials teachers about starting adapted programs. At my school we started a program called Music Connections. Two times a week our music teacher, SLP and local college music student put on a class. Students from my classroom as well as select students from other general education classrooms (these change each class) come to the class. The class is geared towards our students with special needs and the general education peers are there to help, encourage and engage with our special education students. They get to dance, play instruments, sing and listen to stories with music incorporated. EVERYONE loves these classes (honestly I think the general education students love it more :)). The class is such a hit our P.E. teachers want to do something similar next year, since we don't have an adapted P.E. program.

4) Recess!! This is the perfect opportunity for kids to interact. Try purchasing some equipment that helps encourage peer interaction. Things like side walk chalk, adapted playground equipment, hula hoops, light weight balls, ribbon dancers, parachutes. bean bags (for tossing) etc. The biggest thing I can say here is let the kids explore.

5)Photo booth- Set up a photo booth in your classroom (again can be simple, put a sheet up for the background and have a few props). Invite some friends in to take pictures. Then show those pictures to your students. Talk about them throughout the week. If your students are able to, use the pictures for a writing assignment.

These are just a few was to incorporate more peer to peer interaction throughout the day. Do you have any more ideas? If so, share them in the comments.

**None of these photos are mine. They are all from Google.
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Wednesday, April 19, 2017

News-2-You on the iPad

News-2-You (N2Y) is something I use in my classroom regularly. If you haven't heard about it check out the website here. I like N2Y for a few different reasons but my favorite thing is that it available on the iPad. Yes!!! NO PRINTING :))))) Here is how I utilize this awesome feature in my classroom **Disclaimer-these pictures are horrible!!!.
Download the app for free in the app store. Once it is downloaded make sure to enter in all of your N2Y account information in the settings tab to be able to access the articles for free. The other cool thing about the app is that all of the previous articles are available to read, unlike online which only gives you access to 2 weeks at a time.
Once you are in you will have to download each article you want (once you download it, it's available forever). You click the cloud with the down arrow.
Once the article is downloaded you are able to select which level your students will read. This makes it easy to modify for all of your students.
After you have selected the level the article will open. This is the regular level. The students can read themselves, in a group or use the text to speech option by pushing the play button on the bottom (which will read the entire page). If you would prefer them to read but want to encourage them to continue going when they come to a tricky word they can select the word and it will read just that sentence.
After they are done reading they can even do the comprehension section on the iPad. Students select their answers. Once they are finished they can check their work by pushing the check at the bottom. It gives immediate feedback.
Now are you wondering how the heck you can get the tests off of the iPad? Hold you can export them. I personally haven't had luck with email BUT......I use SeeSaw in my class (check out more about that here) and these go directly to each students portfolio. AMAZING!!!! All the kids do is hit the export button.
Select the pages you want to export. I only have them export their assessment pages but I am sure you could do the entire thing if it's easier for you. Click export.....
Tell it where you want the pages to go. In my classroom we select SeeSaw.
It then generates the file and sends it over to SeeSaw. The "turn in" screen pops up and the kids select their name to turn it in.
Once it's turned in, the file is available for me to review in their personal portfolio. This makes collecting data and keeping evidence of work sooo easy!!!
Do you use N2Y in your classroom? Have you tried the iPad version? Do you know anymore cool tricks?

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