Sunday, December 13, 2015

Emergent Literacy for Students with Significant Disabilities

This is a long post but it is so worth reading if you are struggling or want to improve the way you teach literacy to your students with significant disabilities. In the short time I have been doing this I can already see the benefits and wish I would have started this sooner.

Teaching reading and writing to our students with significant disabilities can be tricky. You may often think, do they get this? Is this worth my time? How do I get them to interact if they are non verbal?

No worries, I have had these same thoughts until recently. I attended a training at my local ISD and left feeling so inspired.

Before diving into this I want you to know I have 11 students on my caseload. I have 3 students who I use this method with and it takes about 45-60 minutes a day. All 3 students are non verbal. One has a communication device, can spell and will hold a writing utensil for 5 minutes or longer. The other 2 students do not have a communication device, cannot yet identify letters and before starting this literacy approach would not hold a writing utensil independently.

My other students are readers and writers (to some extent) and this literacy approach is not appropriate for them. This was a picture I took at the conference I went to. Sorry the quality is terrible but it is a good way to figure out if your student(s) is an emergent or conventional reader and writer.

Here is how I incorporate literacy into my classroom for my students with significant disabilities.

Start by reading this book.

After reading the book you will see that reading and writing are split into "4 blocks" (Shared Reading, Shared Writing, Independent Reading, Independent Writing). Here is how I incorporate the blocks into my day/week.

Shared Reading: I start each session with a shared reading. It is a great way to get the kids engaged and excited about learning. You can use any book you would like. I use the same book for 1 week. I have access to the Unique Learning System Curriculum which is awesome but not required.

Once you have selected your book it is important to figure out how your students are going to interact with you. If they do not have a communication device you will have to create something to help them engage in the lesson. This is why Unique is awesome....they have a communication board at the end of all of their books :). 

I print a communication board for all of my students (even the ones with communication devices) and place it in front of them. As you can see these are not anything fancy. I don't even laminate them. I simply print them on regular paper and put them inside of a gallon size baggie. 

While reading the pages it is important to remember the acronym "C.A.R." to maximize student engagement. 

The "C" stands for Comment. A comment is something as simple as Ahh! or Wow! or in my case with our book last week Yum!!.

The "A" stands for Ask. Ask your students a question about the page. Such as "Do you put lights on your tree?", or  "What do you put on your tree?"

Then wait......and maybe wait.....and wait some more for their response.

The "R" stand for Respond. This is your opportunity to interact with your students. See what answer they pointed to. Even if the answer is incorrect, the goal is to have the students engaged. So if you ask "Do you put lights on your tree?" and they point to turkey on their communication device, make a joke of it. "You put turkey on your tree? That is funny!".

Then repeat this with every page. Try asking a variety of questions or if you have a student who is working solely on yes/no questions ask them those. This is your chance to get your students engaged.

As I said before I read each story for 1 week. I try to ask the same questions everyday. That way my students become familiar with the answers and can feel successful. The only thing I do differently is review the vocabulary on Monday's and Wednesday's.

Shared Writing: For the shared writing portion you do something different everyday.

-Monday: You have your students "write" their sentences. Make sure to have a common sentence starter. I tie this into the story we are reading so that the students get more familiar with the vocabulary and they can use the same communication device. I make a chart and write who "wrote" each sentence. When writing the sentences it is important to line all of the words/sections up (don't mind my first is a little off and bothered me all week!!).

Tuesday: Reread and Work with the sentences. I have a pointer and read each sentence to the students. Make sure to say who wrote each sentence when reading them. Look at the kids and make sure they know you are reading their sentence. I then select something in the sentences we want to focus on. This week we worked on writing the word My.

I start by saying what we are going to work on. All of my students have their own paper and the staff member working with them has the writing utensil. All of my kids use skinny markers at this time. I show the students how to make the letter. I then break it down and we work on it section by section. The students then make the letter using the hand over hand approach EXCEPT....the students hand is over the adults hand. This way the students can feel how you are moving your hand instead of their hands being restricted when your hand is over theirs (try will see what I mean :)).

Wednesday: Cut up sentences. Write the students sentence on a sentence strip. If you have students who are working on typing they can type their sentence and then use that to cut.  When writing the sentence make sure to have an adequate amount of write space in between words. 

Students will then be asked to cut apart their sentences. My students all have support with this however they are expected to let the adult know where the sentence is supposed to be cut. The purpose of this is to have your students learn that the white space is separating words. 

Sometimes we have accidents....which is OKAY!!! This is a perfect time for a teachable moment. Simply let them cut it and correct them....then tape the words back together.

 Once the sentence is cut have them put it back together. I give my student a model to follow.

Thursday: BE THE SENTENCE. Write the words of the sentence on separate pieces of paper and hand them out to the kids....and maybe adults if you have more words than students. The students will then rearrange themselves (or your will help them) to form the sentence. You may need to have a model available and A LOT of patience for this lesson!!!

Friday: Make the book. Use the sentences the students cut up on Wednesday and make a book. You could also make this on the computer if your students have goals in that area....mine don't so we not only use this time to re-visit our sentences but work on our fine motor skills. Have the kids look up pictures on the internet to match their sentence. You could also have kids bring in pictures (since you will know what their sentence is on Monday...they will have time).

**Yes my little guy is holding a glue stick all by himself!!!!!

Independent Reading: After your direct reading and writing instruction students should have the opportunity to do independent reading. This can look different for every student. You can have kids read on the iPad, read adapted books OR even read the books you made during previous weeks. Build your students stamina. I will admit during this time my staff or the iPad "voice" is reading to my kids. students pick what they want to read. 

You could use some of the following sites for books online: Raz-Kids, Book-Flix, News-2-You (Free app if you have the online subscription), Storyline Online (free), and our new favorite Tar Heel Reader (free)!!

Independent Writing: You're probably thinking, how the heck are my students going to be able to write something. This is probably the hardest part of the whole process.  It is hard because it requires A LOT from the kids. However, it requires a lot from you and your staff too. You have to insure that everyone sticks with can at times think "Why are we doing this?", "Will this ever happen?". 

We start by making sure every student has access to the ENTIRE alphabet and CORE vocabulary. This can look different for each student depending on their cognitive abilities. I have 2 students who have access to the alphabet and CORE words but only one at a time. I have another student who is able to look at the entire alphabet at once and has access to all of the CORE vocab and tons of fringe vocabulary. 

I then tape their paper to the desk. Trust me.....tape is your best friend!!!!

Students then tell us what letter they want by flipping through, shaking their head when we get to a letter etc. We then give them the writing tool and let them go. It is so important that you do not form the letters for them. This is INDEPENDENT writing time. I do have my staff write what the letter is supposed to look like next to their letter just so we know what they are trying to say. When kids are picking letters I try to relate them to words. For example: "Ohh, you picked L, maybe for lion or library or even Liam."

These writing pieces may look like scribbles to most but to everyone in my classroom these are the students work. These pages show the 10 minutes they put into writing for the day. These markings show the student was able to look at the paper for 2 seconds or hold a marker for 5 seconds without throwing it. Even though this may be the hardest part of the process to believe in, it is by far my favorite.

But just like in every classroom mine is not perfect....we too get frustrated and like to throw things. Don't get mad. They are just markers. The student can pick it up after they write.

I store all of the students work in a folder and pull it out everyday when we start our lesson. 

What are your thoughts about this literacy approach? Will you give it a try in your classroom? Do you see the benefit?

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Maximizing Instruction Time

Let's face it, as teachers we are busy. And when I say busy I mean when I get home at 7:00 every night I have to ask myself did I eat today? Was I able to leave for the bathroom? kind of busy!

Teaching is super rewarding and I love my job, but at times it can be difficult to find the time in the day to include everything that is expected of us. Over the past 4 years I have tweaked and tweaked and reworked my schedule a ton but I think I finally have things down and feel that I effectively utilize every minute of my day.

I want to share some of the tips, tricks and/or strategies I use in my day with you! Hopefully you can use some of these and leave everyday feeling like you utilized your time wisely.

Whole Group
I spend the first month or so teaching every task I would eventually like my students to do independently in a whole group. This gives me a good idea of how well they can do the task and it gives my para the chance to see what I expect. Sure these tasks are easy and may not be teaching "new" concepts but working independently and in whole groups is something my students can always benefit from.

Independent Center
Once I feel the students can complete some portion of the tasks independently, I open up the independent center. Allowing your students to work independently is a GREAT learning experience. Even if they are getting nothing more than just sitting in a chair by themselves for 10 minutes. For some of my kids that is HUGE!!!!

Having an independent center allows you the chance to work with smaller groups. Here are some independent activities we do in our classroom.


On the iPad- N2Y, Raz-Kids, Xtra Math, Lexia Core 5, Todo Math

Binder Work- The Moffat Girls Math and Literacy Packs, The Autism Helpers, Writing CentersLiteracy Centers, and  Leveled Daily Work  (I put the new sheet on the iPad so I don't have to print 180 pages in color :)) Autism Adventures Bulletin Board Activities (I turned these into bin work), my Independent Work Binder.

Independent Reading- students have individual book boxes and I have comfy seats for them to use. They don't always read independently but they are able to grab their boxes and find a seat independently. Most of them at least grab a book out of the bin and look at the pictures. This is a huge thing in my class and I have seen a ton of improvement in this area. We are hoping to have everyone reading independently after winter break!!

Para Pro
If you are fortunate to have a para pro USE THEM!! I have my para pros work on tasks with the students that correspond with the lesson I just taught or taught the day before. In a typical classroom this would be the "independent practice" portion of the lesson. But since our students need a lot of support on new tasks I have the para work on this with them.

(this is the Para Pro work center)

Direct Teaching
I teach 1 phonics group and 1 comprehension group daily. I split the kids up differently depending on the targeted task(s) for the week. This year I got super lucky and my kids either struggle with phonics OR comprehension so I only work with 4 or 5 students in each group.

I teach new skills and we do guided practice like crazy. I have a SMARTboard and love to incorporate that as the students are able to stay engaged and interested in the lesson. We work on the same skill for an entire week.
(this is where I teach)

In order to help maximize the instruction time and cut down on anxiety associated with transitions you have to make these as predictable as possible. I have my room set up so the students can rotate through the centers in a clockwise fashion. This is helpful because the students don't feel as if they have to go back to something they have already done. I also set a timer and the students have a visual schedule. They know what is expected of them during transitions are are now able to switch from one center to the next in about 15 seconds!!

Break Time
All students benefit from break time. Some teachers use break time as their "independent" center. That is okay, and you need to do what is best for your classroom, I just utilize break time a little differently.

I incorporate break time in between subjects. This allows the kids to be able to distinct between subjects. While the kids are having a break I am able to spend 7 minutes organizing for the next lesson.

I LOVE this because absolutely no instruction time is lost. The kids get a break and we both feel ready for the next lesson.

(this is our break time area)

What things do you do in your classroom to maximize instruction time?

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Thursday, October 29, 2015

Incorporating Language Arts into Independent Centers

Let's face it, our jobs are tough and as much as we want to teach whole group it can be difficult! I am ALWAYS looking for activities that my students can work on independently. I had to find ways to keep my kids busy while I worked with their classmates. I came up with this fun and differentiated language arts activity that can be used in a variety of ways.

With this alphabet writing activity students can work on a variety of reading and writing skills depending on their level.

Students can sort words into different categories. For vowels they can sort initial sounds, long and short vowels. For consonants they can sort initial and ending sounds. Depending on the independent level of your students you can pick and choose what you want them to do. Some ways I use them are: sorting all words into all of the categories, reading words for 1 category and saying them into the iPad (or other voice recording device), direct matching words.

After students complete the reading portion I have them write onto the appropriate leveled sheet. I have 3 levels to select from.

Level 1-On this level students write down exactly what they see. I use this level for my students who are working on letter formation and building their writing attitudes. This activity takes the "thinking" out of writing. This level also includes boxes for the students to write in so they have a defined/outlined writing space.

Level 2- On this level students will still write down exactly what they see like in level 1 but there are 3 more spaces for them to add words that match the sound they are working on. I use this level for my students who are able to do limited independent work. This level also includes the boxes for a defined writing space.

Level 3: For this level students will continue to copy exactly that they sorted but they will have to come up with 6 additional words to match the sort. I use this for my highest level of independent workers. This level does not have writing boxes. Instead I have only included a line.

If you have those kids who are great independent workers and finish early ALL of the levels have the opportunity for coloring :)

Grab Letter A writing/sorting here to try it out in your class!

If you want to purchase the entire product check it out here!

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Monday, October 26, 2015

SPED Tricks and Treats Blog Hop

Welcome to the SPED Tricks and Treats Blog Hop. I am so excited to share my tricks and treat with you!

Introduce technology into your T.E.A.C.C.H work tasks. Take pictures of various building or pattern tasks. I like doing these because it allows our students to use technology as a tool rather than a choice time activity. I also like this because it is super easy and quick to make changes for future tasks or on the fly. I store the iPad in the drawer with the task itself.

Use Wiki Stixs to engage your readers in the lesson. I have some students who struggle to do paper pencil tasks. I do this to allow him to show me he knows the answer. If I need to have documentation of his work I simply snap a picture, print it, date it and put it in his file.

Ever have students who are doing everything they can to get your attention? Do you struggle to ignore them because all you can think about is how difficult it will be to clean up their mess? Well...if you take the time to label EVERYTHING in your classroom, your students can clean up all of their mess themselves (or with little prompting). Here is a mess that was made in my classroom while a student was wanting nothing more than my attention.

Yes those are all little pieces from 5 different file folder activities. Instead of having to give in and give the attention the student needed I didn't sweat it. I know that cleaning up what could be a daunting task won't be that difficult (for me :)). I label the backs of every piece in my file folders. I put a code (usually an abbreviation) on the backs of the little pieces. I put that same code on the file folder and baggie that holds the pieces. That way, if something like this was to happen everyone knows where the pieces go. It is also good practice because sometimes those darn little pieces just fall out! (I forgot to take pictures of the little icons to show you can example :( )

That was it for my tricks now it's time to grab your treat!

The treat I have shared with you is an Interactive Reading Comprehension File Folder.....Don't forget to label the pieces :). Grab the full product here!

Hop on over to see what Kate from Fun in ECSE has to share!
Fun in ECSE

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