Sunday, February 19, 2017

Alternative Pencil

Writing can often be over looked in classrooms of students with significant disabilities. It's no fault to you or your staff, there are just so many things to focus on; behaviors, speech, following directions, toileting, eating etc. If you had to give up something, I am sure writing would be the #1 thing as it may not seem like a very functional thing for our students, especially those who struggle to hold standard pencils. That is... until you introduce an alternative pencil.

I started using alternative pencils when I went to a conference last year on emergent literacy, read more about that here. It honestly changed the way I taught. Usually you go to conferences, they get you super excited about the new teaching method, you come back, implement it into your classroom and a month later you give up on it or find something else. Well folks, I have to say, I have never gone back to the way I didn't teach 😁  taught writing!

Alternative pencils allow our non-verbal students a way to express themselves through text. It is engaging for both the students and teacher. I love seeing my students sort through the letters to spell out their message.

Here is what my alternative pencils look like.

How do they work? You can project the pencil or just print and hold it.
1) Make sure you have something to write responses on (whiteboard, typing, paper)
2) Then determine how your student is going to respond (yes/no). Are they going to shake their head,     use a switch etc
3) Start by asking your student "do you have something to say/are you ready to write etc."
4) Put your finger on A, say "is it ABCDE" and point to each letter.
5) Student responds
6) If they say yes then go through each letter slowly until they tell you their letter. If they say no go to     the next column and repeat. If they say yes acknowledge it and record their answer.
7) Repeat but this time say "do you have another letter"....then go through the process again.

Here is a video to better explain this process. I did not make or own this video.

Now you might be saying "this is great, but my students don't know how to write. They don't know their letters, they can't spell". While this may be true, do we truly know how much they do and don't know if they haven't ever had a way to express themselves? It's something to think about right?

A huge part of this process, especially for students who are new to this, is interpreting what they are trying to say. Here is an example of something a student wrote in my class.

When seeing the letter QFT what comes to mind? quick, quarter, quiet, fight, Friday, fries, go, goal etc. Think about your students interests or common things they like to watch, say etc. When I was doing this with my student I said to him...did you mean quick field goal (they played soccer in P.E.), he didn't have much of a response. Then I got really excited and said did you mean......Cute Girls??? He instantly lit up, started smiling, clapping and shaking his head yes!!! Clearly this is what he was thinking about (maybe not but he was excited about it!!). So this is what I did. Write down what they were actually trying to say then use the alternative pencil to model how you would have spelled the word(s).

I will be the first one to admit, this is hard. The kids will struggle. It's all new. But think about when you give any child a pencil for the first time, what's the first thing they do? Scribble....So take the plunge, download this alternative pencil and get your kids scribbling!!!!

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Digital Student Portfolios Using SeeSaw

If you are anything like me you're always searching for new and easy ways to keep track of student work to have on file for conferences/IEP meetings etc. For years I struggled with binders, file folders, digit files on my desktop and so much more. I was so tired of it and knew I had to find something that would make my life easier. Tah-dah!!!!!!

SeeSaw is a FREE (you can pay for certain subscriptions but the free one is perfect!) app that allows you and your students to build digital portfolios. It is super user friendly, the kids love it and best of makes collecting student work samples SOOOOO easy.
Once you get signed up, add your students, download the app and connect it to your account (simply snap a picture of the class QR Code) you are ready to start.

The students are able to add photos, videos, drawings, notes or links right away. We use photo and note the most in my classroom.

Here are a few examples of student work from my classroom.

1) Rainbow writing. I snapped a picture of our worksheet and the kids select different colors right inside the app. It is also easy to differentiate. Notice how one of my students has one large word instead of all 5.

2) Using the Note option, I had my students type sentences using their spelling words and respond to a question following a story I read.

3) Using the drawing feature I had a student draw a picture after listening to a story I read aloud.
4) I took a picture of a vocabulary card and had my student write about it using the caption feature. For the second picture we took a picture of the work a student did on the Smartboard.

5) We are working on counting by fives so I used the video feature to record my student counting by fives. We took a picture of the chart and she touched the numbers while counting out loud (this is just a screenshot so the video portion will not work)

What I love about this app is once kids "turn" in their work you are able to approve it, make comments, like it. It is very similar to a Facebook news feed. As you can see here I have 13 items to approve.

Once you approve the items they are sorted and stored in each students individual folders. It makes searching for their work quick and easy.

There is also a parent feature where you can give parents access to their child's portfolio. I haven't explored this option yet. I am thinking about just sticking with the classroom option for now :).

I cannot tell you how fast my students picked this up and how nice it has been to be able to have instant data collection/digital portfolios. Make sure to sign up for a free account at

Have you used SeeSaw before? Do you have another digital portfolio app that you use?

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Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Velcro Piece Organization

I know I am not the only one who has spent hours prepping materials. Printing, laminating, cutting and velcroing. You set everything up in your classroom so it is picture ready and then......they come!

The kids who are excited about learning and using all of the cool materials you have made. One thing I have learned about kids during all of my years of working with them is no matter how much you "train" them, there is still that possibility that not all of your little velcro pieces get put back exactly where you intended them to be. Keep reading to see how I organize all of my velcro pieces. This post will show you how I organize my awesome monthly themed binders from Melissa over at Autism Adventures!!

Step One: Prep all of your mateirals as you normally would.

Step Two: I label all of my title pages with numbers 1-12. I label mine in the bottom right corner. Here is binder #5.

Step 3: Label all of the pages of that binder using a decimal system. For example since all of the pages belong in binder number 5, they will all be labeled with 5.__. Here is an example of how I labeled page 6.

Step 4: Label all of the velcro pieces associated with that page with the same exact number.

Step 5: Do this with every binder.

Now I am not going to lie, this does add a few extra minutes onto your prep but......when this happens

You don't have to guess where the pieces go. You know exactly what binder and page they belong to.

What organizations systems do you use for your binder/velcro tasks?

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Sunday, October 16, 2016

Special Education Referral Procedures and IEP Responsibilities

The IEP process can be a very daunting task. Even though I feel very comfortable with all of the paperwork I sometimes forget the "timeline".  I have put together timelines and procedures for Initial Referrals, Annual Reviews and 3 year re-evaluations that we use in my district. These may be different than your district so be sure to double check. I just thought it would be good to share :)

Here are the PDF versions of these forms. Feel free to print and use for reference.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Structured Motor/Sensory Room Activities

Do you have access to a motor room at your school but don't know how to utilize it? Are you looking for some new ideas? Do you wish you had a routine that was easy to teach for your students and/or your paras? Keep reading to see how we manage motor room time at our school.
We start out by having each student grab their motor room visual. This allows our kids the opportunity to be "independent" in the motor room. It is also a great mini-schedule for your students who need to know exactly what is going to be done in the motor room. The kids also have access to dry erase marker to cross off the activities once they have completed them. Each group of my students spends 30 minutes of structured time in the motor room a day. 

(5 minutes) Each week our OT (occupational therapist) selects one of our gross motor activity visuals and posts it under the gross motor sign. The visual shows a picture of the object the kids will be using and a description on how to use it. Our students are not allowed to visit our motor room alone, so there is always an adult there to read it, check for understanding and possibly show the students what to do if they don't understand.

Here are the gross motor activities we have prepared for the students this year:
Yoga Ball: 
-Sit on the ball with or without support.  Bounce.
-Sit on the ball with or without support.  Lean side to side, front to back and try to keep balance.

-Sit on the ball with or without support.  Try to reach for different items on the floor and toss into a bin.
-Sit on the ball with or without support.  March legs up and down.  Tap opposite hand on knee when it is raised.
-Sit on ball with or without support. Play catch.
-Roll on belly on ball with arms extended to floor.  Walk hands forward and back trying to keep balance.  May need support.  Roll back to knees.
-Keep balance on ball on belly with arms extended on the floor.  Try to pick up items to put in a bin.
-Dribble ball.  2 hands, one hand, dribble in a pattern
-Play catch with the ball rolling or bouncing it between people

-Scatter things around swing and have child move the swing on belly to retrieve or look for certain items and throw or place in bin.
-Try to swing back and forth, side to side, diagonally

-Stand and try to rotate around hips (standard hula hooping)
-Hold hoop on side and have kids crawl through (bear or crab)
-Use hoop like a jump rope and rotate around head and step through.
-Place on floor and hop in each hoop.  Use 2 feet together or one foot.

Medicine Ball
-Hold ball and move in a circle close to body (both directions)
-Pick up ball and throw to ground

-Move on belly or seated around the room.  Go to called out items to pick up.

-Jump on 2 feet (with or without support)
-Jump on 1 foot and then the other.
-Jump with a pattern, (2 left jumps, then 2 right jumps)  
-Clap hands while jumping.
-March on tramp (high knees)
-March on tramp and touch opposite knee with each hand (crossover march)

Ribbon Sticks
-Make letters, words, names, numbers in the air (use both hands)  

-Pick up scarves off the ground and toss into air
-Pick up scarves and when they are floating down catch them on a called out body part. (Left elbow, right knee, right shoulder, left toe, head etc)

Balance Board (2 sizes, lower one is easier)
-Stand on board to balance (with or without support)
-Stand on board (with or without support) and rock side to side and balance.
-Play catch while standing on board

-Have kids hold parachute and lift and lower sitting or standing
-Put a ball on parachute and try to keep it on
-While lifting and lowering parachute as a group, have kids take turns going under it.

Half Ball balance game
-Set out half balls and have kids try to stand on them one one foot or two with or without support
-Make a line of half balls and have kids walk over them with or without support

Moon Shoes
-Put on moon shoes and walk around, with or without support.
-Put on moon shoes and bounce in place, with or without support.

Animal Walks
-Have kids try to walk like different animals (bear, elephant with arms clasped like a trunk, crab, snake, etc)  Can go on mats all the way around swing.  Can try to go backwards.

Obstacle Courses
-Line up a few activities for kids to go through. Ex: jump on tramp 10 times, walk like a bear, climb through hoop, do the “try this” activity, 10 jumping jacks, then walk over half balls, repeat...

(5 minutes) Now that the kids have warmed up their bodies it's time to have them warm up their hands. Just like the gross motor station, we have a weekly visual for our fine motor activities too. 
Here are some of the fine motor activities we have prepared for our students:

Tweezers/tongs with puff balls

-Use tweezers to pick up pom pons and place in a bucket
-Use the twisty dropper to suck up and squeeze out water
-Use the twisty dropper and have a "puff ball race". Squeeze the dropper to have it blow air

Nuts and bolts
-Screw the nuts on and off the bolts
-Match the colors of the nuts and bolts before putting them together

-Squeeze the clothespin to open and close it 10 times
-Pick up items with the clothespin and transfer them to a new place

Rubber bands
-Group spoons together and wrap a rubber band around them.
-Use rubber band to make shapes on the Geoboard
-Collate notecardsand secure with a paperclip
-Open paperclip box, dump out paperclips, put them back in the box and close it

-Smash it like a pancake
-Roll it like a snake
-Spell your name by rolling out the letters

-Build a tower
-Make uppercase and lowercase letters. (Check these visuals out for FREE)

-Deal the cards
-Flip the cards
-Hold 5 cards in your hand and spread them out so you can see them (like you're playing)

Stacking coins
-Stack coins to make a tower

-Line them up
-Stack them

Stringing Beads
-String them to make a necklace
-Pick them up with: tweezers or clothespins

-Tear it
-Hole punch it

-Make letters, numbers, shapes

(15 minutes) Now that their bodies and hands are warmed up they are ready to work. This is where the students will complete those fine motor goal work activities. We have created folders for the students that have papers to match their goals.

Here are somethings the students work on:
-Writing their name
-Writing the alphabet (upper and lowercase)
-Copying sentences
-Cutting (lines, shapes)
-We even have some students complete their writing assignments from their general education teachers.
(5 minutes) Now come on, after all that work your kids deserve to have some time to do what they choose to do. We have so many fun gadgets in our motor room that we don't utilize during our other activities and this is when the kids can choose to use them. Now, some kids do choose to pick gross/fine motor activities that we did from previous weeks....of course we allow this. 

Here are some choice time activities we have:
-Hide in the tent
-Play in the ball pit
-Crawl through the tunnel
-Play in the body sock
-Turn off the lights and plug in the disco ball
-Blow bubbles 
-Jump from the trampoline on to the crash mat
Before the kids leave they are expected to clean up the room and make sure it is set up for the next group. They also clean off their schedule cards and put them in the basket.

Grab the visuals here!

I hope I was able to give you some new ideas. What fun activities do you do in your motor room? Do you structure your motor room or is it a free for all?

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