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Tuesday, March 28, 2017

6 Steps to Mix Up Your Calendar Routine

Towards the middle of this school year, I realized that I needed to mix up my Calendar routine. Sadly, my calendar routine had become stagnant and boring. I was just going through the motions. Once I realized that, I began my journey to find activities and strategies that would be more effective, engaging, and hands-on for my students. With the help of some exciting products from fellow special education teachers and the creation of some new products, I was able to come up with a routine that is effective and fun. My students, staff, and I no longer dread my calendar time. 

What does my calendar routine consist of?

-Weather Report
-Flag Salute
-Check Out

Here are 6 simple steps to creating a more engaging and fun calendar time: 

1. Include an Engaging Check-In PowerPoint or Interactive PDF

My students start each day by determining "who is here today," greeting each other, writing or typing their name on the board, singing the "Goodmorning Song", and spinning in my chair (yes, I let them spin in my special desk chair). I used to have a powerpoint presentation with all of my students' names on it. I would modify it a bit for each student depending on their skill level. Some students would write their name, others would trace their name. Through time, I came up with my Check-In Interactive PDF.  My students come to the board each morning, select their name, state if they are here today (yes or no), choose a way to greet their classmates, and choose to either type their name or write their name. When it comes to writing their name on the board, I have each of my students write their name in a way that is appropriate for them. Up until yesterday, I actually sold these CUSTOM Check-In Interactive PDFs in my store, but I have realized that they take a very long time to make and customize. Now I just have a Basic Check-In Interactive PDF in my store that you can purchase here. It is not customizable or personalized, but it is a fun way to get your students' involved in your morning attendance/check-in. 

2. Brainstorm Engaging Calendar Routines and Mix Yours Up Sometimes

This school year, I decided to go paperless with my calendar routine. I no longer have a large calendar, magnets, icons, or random pieces on a bulletin board in my classroom that takes up a ton of wall space. I simply use my laptop and projector during our calendar time. Up until about a month ago, I used the Unique Learning System interactive calendar and weather activities, but then Autism Adventures created her AMAZING Interactive PDF Calendar. The calendar has been a game changer in my classroom, especially because it utilizes Boardmaker symbols that correlate to my AAC devices and communication boards. I love that I can access my calendar at anytime during the day and that I do not have to worry about resetting my calendar pieces each month. Plus, now I have extra wall space for other fun activities and student work display! You can purchase Autism Adventures' Interactive Calendar here. 

3. Focus on Communication 

My main focus for my calendar time is COMMUNICATION. My calendar routine is repetitive and consistent for my students. With that said, it is a perfect time for my students to practice using their words and their communication devices. I prompt EVERY student in my class to communicate with me during our calendar time in whatever way is appropriate for them. EVERY student says what day it is, EVERY student says what month it is, EVERY student says what the date is. We spend time on this because it is important for me to teach my students how to use their voices and to learn how to use AAC devices for functional uses. We use our voice, a GoTalk, and an iPad with Dynavox Compass installed on it during this time. Like I said, the AAC visuals correlate perfectly with the interactive calendar that we use. 

4. Incorporate Visual Menus 

I create a visual lunch menu each month using pictures so that my students can be more independent while reading the menu each day. My students love being able to read the menu, point to their favorite foods, and see what is for lunch the next day. If this is something that you would like to do in your classroom, I have created Visual Calendar Templates. Simply open the PDF or powerpoint document and insert the photos into the appropriate calendar boxes. Type the name of the food item into the calendar box. You can also use the Visual Calendar Templates for marking holidays, special school events, and birthdays. You can purchase my Visual Calendar Templates (March 2017-July 2018) here

5. Highlight One Student or a Group of Students Daily during the Video Weather Report

After we have reviewed our calendar, menu, and weather, I select one student to give the weather report. This student comes to the front of the classroom, stands in front of the board, and gives the weather report using either his/her voice or an appropriate AAC device. I videotape the student giving the weather report and sometimes throw in other questions (what are we having for lunch? what day is it? etc.). I use one of the classroom iPads to record the student. After their report is finished, they head back to their desk, I connect the iPad to the Apple TV, and I play their report for the entire class to watch. My students LOVE being the weatherman or weather-woman for the day! You can read more about the technology that I use in my classroom here. NOTE: if you are planning on doing this in your classroom, make sure to get parent permission to videotape your students. I use Hailey Deloya's permission slips and modify them as needed. You can download them for free here

6. Include an Engaging Check-Out Routine 

My students end each day by answering two questions: 1) how did you feel today? and 2) what was your favorite part of the day?, spinning in my desk chair, and receiving their token economy reward for the day. My students then are prompted through four steps of lining up: 1) stand up, 2) push in your chair, 3) get your backpack, and 4) line up! I have created an interactive PDF to help with this. The last 15 minutes of our day used to be the most difficult part of the day, but that is no longer the case! You can purchase my Check-Out Interactive PDF here. 

Thursday, March 2, 2017

March Task Box Activities for Special Education Classrooms

Can you believe that we are already three days into March? It seems like I was just blogging about my February task boxes. As many of you know, in hopes of keeping my students engaged and learning new skills, I center my task boxes around monthly themes. We had so much fun with our February task boxes, which you can look at here, but now it's time to say goodbye and welcome in March. With only six students in my classroom currently, I have a ten task box system in my classroom. You can check out my task box system here. I typically use the following formula when setting up my task box rotation each month: three math (various levels), three ELA (various levels), and four fine motor. I usually have a few extra prepared so that I can rotate them in as needed. I then assign each student one math box at his/her level, one ELA box at his/her level, and 1 fine motor task at his/her level. I have learned that I can find many appropriate FREE tasks just by doing a simple Pinterest and Teachers Pay Teachers search, but I always create a few myself as well. This month, I am sharing some of my favorites that I found while searching. Simply click on the title of the task box activity to be taken to the website/store where you can download and view an amazing product for FREE!

1. St. Patrick's Day Beginning Sound Match by Playdough to Plato 

2. Shamrock CVCe Puzzles by Playdough to Plato

3. Easter Egg CVCe Puzzles by The Kindergarten Connection

4. St. Patrick's Day Vocabulary Clothespin Task by Shining STARS Special Education

1. St. Patricks Day Math Sort (Numbers 1-10) from Mrs Ps Specialities 

2. Rainbow Sorting Coins Activity from Spinner's End Primary School

4. Eggs Visual Addition Matching  from Heidi Songs

5. St. Patrick's Day Ten Frames from Michelle Breaux

6. St. Patrick's Day Count and Clip Cards from Shining STARS Special Education

1. Easter Egg Color Match from Child Care Land Pre-K

2. Pom Pom Egg Crate Sort  from Burbuja de Lenguaje 

3. Easter Egg Match from Makes and Takes 

ALSO.... I do admit that I have fallen in love with a few PAID products! I LOVE LOVE LOVE Autism Adventures' Interactive Bulletin Board Set for task box activities. With each month, there are two themes, which means I can easily switch out my boxes every two weeks. Additionally, each month focuses on very similar skills, which means my students can work on the basic skills that they still need to master on while being INDEPENDENT.

I also LOVE Simple Special Ed's Vocabulary Binders. I have the students work on the vocabulary matching during our task box rotation to mix things up. The students first focus on matching picture to picture and then move on to matching picture to word. I even use her flashcards as a matching task as shown in the picture blow. 

Thursday, February 23, 2017

iTechnology in the Moderate to Severe Special Education Setting (PLUS, a GIVEAWAY)

As a special education teacher, I love using technology in my classroom. Why? Because it allows all of my students to be able to participate in our academic lessons and curriculum, while keeping students engaged and excited. With that said, I was taught that there is a time and a place to use technology. Some students can become obsessed with with technology, losing interest in more concrete and "real" day to day activities. It is important for you to find the technological balance in your classroom. My day is built around a variety of technological activities and tools; however, I also make sure to incorporate a variety of other fine motor and concrete tasks throughout the day. Four of my favorite technological tools in my classroom are: 1) my projector, 2) my document camera, 3) my Apple TV, and 4) my iPad(s). For the purpose of today's blog I will be focusing on the latter two: my Apple TV and my iPads.

Apple TV

Some teachers love their Smartboards, but I love my Apple TV. I primarily use it to project an app, website, picture, or video from my iPad to the big screen. My students and I have so much FUN engaging in academic tasks using the iPad while they are projected on the "big screen" using the Apple TV.  I have had a few students through the years with orthopedic impairments. Instead of those students missing on an activity during our group lesson (because it is too difficult for them to come up to the board or because it takes them too much to come to up to the board), they can participate with their peers at their seat. You can even attach an adaptive switch to the iPad to make it even more accessible for students with motor skills issues. On a side note: I recommend checking with your IT department or technology team before purchasing an Apple TV. I have heard that some teachers say that their network/internet at their district does not do well with the Apple TV. The Apple TV mirrors the activities that are on the iPad, allowing the entire class to see what one person is doing on the iPad, which brings me to my next favorite technological tool: the iPad.


My district is making the switch to 1:1 technology. While our general education students get Acers or Chromebooks, the moderate to severe students, get iPads. I currently have enough iPads in my classroom for each student to have one (yes, we are spoiled). With that said, we have little to no funds to purchase apps so I still use my own personal iPad so that I can purchase apps with my own iCloud account. I have purchased several apps that I LOVE. Some of them are not free, but, in my opinion, they are worth every penny that I paid for them! Today, I will be sharing 5 of my favorite apps. Be sure to enter the giveaway at the bottom for a chance to win an iTunes gift card to buy apps for your class!

Here are some of my favorite apps:

1. Splashtop

This is not technically a academic app, but it makes my life so much easier. Splashtop is an app that wirelessly connects your desktop computer or laptop to your iPad, making it possible for you to control your computer from your iPad. I have found this app to be extremely helpful for using Unique Learning System on the iPad. When I access Unique Learning System on the iPad using safari it is very slow and hard to navigate. This is even more true when I connect my iPad to the Apple TV. With Splashtop, I am able to easily access and navigate Unique Learning System using my iPad without lag. This has been wonderful for group lessons!

2. Don't Let the Pigeon Run This App! ($5.99) 

This app is so much FUN! If your students enjoy Mo Willems' other books, then they are sure to enjoy this app. The students have the option to 1) read the story, 2) create the story by selecting one visual answer out of three visual options, or 3) create the story by speaking into the recording mechanism. This app is a perfect way for students with limited communication skills to practice speaking. It is very motivating for shy speakers. My students love hearing the recording of themselves. The app is also wonderful for nonverbal students because it does offer the visual answer options, allowing ALL students to participate in the interactive story.

3. Pixel and Parker ($1.99) 

This is an interactive story combined with a counting gameboard. Students are lead through a story and asked to participate in a variety of activities in hopes of helping Parker find his cat, Pixel. In addition to this app, I also love Tally Tots and Alpa Tots, which are also created by Spinlight Studios.

4. Autism Learning Games: Camp Discover Pro (FREE) 

I stumbled across this app when it was free for a short time. I quickly fell in love with it. This app makes Discrete Trial Training a breeze! Students are lead through a series of trials based on various topics. Each student has a different username. Yes, it is wonderful that the app tracks progress, but what I love most about this app is the preference assessment that the students take at the beginning of each activity. The students are praised for each correct answer based on the results of their preference assessment. Additionally, when the students have completed an activity, they are able to play a game.

5. Verbal Me ($5.99) 

There is a free version of this app, but I LOVE the paid version. This app offers you a variety of communication boards. I use it throughout the day for a variety of academic and non-academic tasks. The "yes" "no" communication board has become a favorite in our classroom.


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Friday, February 10, 2017

IEP Data Collection in the Moderate to Severe Special Education Setting

It has taken me three years to come up with a data system that works for me and my students. With that being said, as you read this post, the best advice that I can give you concerning data collection is to find a system that works for YOU. Utilize ideas, data sheets, and methods from various teachers to create a system that is unique and all yours! That is exactly what I have done. I teach a 4th-6th grade, self-contained, moderate to severe, non-categorical special education class. Most of my students are non-writers and require one-on-one assistance to complete tasks, and, yes, I have a data collection that works for my classroom! 

My Data Binder

My data collection system centers on ONE data collection binder. That's right, just ONE binder for all of my students. I have tried having a folder for each student, a binder for each student, and a clipboard for each student. That was just TOO MUCH for me. I have condensed everything into ONE binder, and it words perfect for me! Currently, I only have six students, which makes it possible for me to have a 1 inch binder. Last year I had 11 student, which would have made it essential for me to have a 2 or 3 inch binder. 

Let's take a look at what I put in my data binder.....

1. Keep Calm and Collect Data Binder Cover

Check out my binder cover above! This is a very simple cover, but I printed it on neon paper to make it a bit more exciting. 

2. Class Overview Student Data Sheet

This is my MUST HAVE data sheet. It is double-sided sheet that I switch out each week. This sheet allows me to see ALL of my students' academic IEP goals at once. I type in my student names and goals at the beginning of the year and change it according to the IEPs that occur throughout the year. I then make multiple copies to last me several weeks. I write in the date each week and check off the student goals as I work on them and/or assess them. As you can see in the sample above, I abbreviate the student goals so that they can all fit on ONE page. This sheet is essential because it allows me to see which goals I have worked on and assessed that week.

The back of the sheet contains an area for notes. I make notes about how my students are doing on a specific goal or make a note about what activities are working or not working during daily work or assessments. This side of the sheet also contains a section for my to-do list. This is a place that I can write down ideas as I am working with students on their IEP goals. I think of so many awesome ideas while I am working with my students, but I so often forget them if I do not write them down in that moment. I go back to this list at the end of each day to see what I need to prepare for the following day in order to work on or assess goals. 

3. Dividers 

I have ONE divider for every student in my classroom. I order the dividers based upon our rotation schedule. The student that I see first during the day has the first divider section, while the student that I see last has the last divider section. I simply work my through the binder each day, collecting data as I go. Some days, I complete assessments for one goal, other days I simply work on a goal. Whatever it may be, I note it in my binder so that I can easily go back and read the progress that the student is making. 

4. Individual Student IEP Goals/Benchmarks Data Sheet

The first data sheet that I place in each students' divider is an individual goal and benchmark data sheet. Thankfully, our IEP system produces a data sheet with goals and benchmarks listed for all of our students. This is what I use for my students; however, if your IEP system does not create one for you, I would recommend using this data sheet from the Autism Helper.  It is also essential to have your students' goals and benchmarks listed somewhere in their divider for quick reference. 

5. Page Protector for Each Student 

Each page protector has a cover with the student name, quarter number, and school year. I use a different neon color for each quarter. (You can purchase this neon paper pack from Amazon here: Neenah Astrobrights Color Paper.) This is where I play place papers or other important data sheets that pertains to a student's IEP goals. I remove the page protector at the end of each quarter. I eventually place all of the student weekly data sheets in the page protector as well. Once the quarter ends, the page protector goes into the student's teacher file for me to keep for my records, and I start a new page protector for the new quarter. I got this awesome idea from Stephanie from Mrs. D's Corner. You can check her video out explaining her system here. 

6. Data Sheets

After the page protector, I place several different data sheets from my Keep Calm and Collect Data Pack in the binder. These sheets help me keep essential, basic academic data for my students. They help me see progress on IEP goals and other basic skills. These data sheets are essential for helping me determine which goals I should write in the future. You can use these sheets once a month or quarterly. They allow me to have accurate baseline data on my students at any point in the year. This sheets give me a snapshot of what skills my students have mastered and give me information concerning skills and topics that need to be addressed. They are part of my Keep Calm & Collect Data product, which also includes a variety of matching tasks and flashcards. You can purchase this product here. In addition to these data sheets, there are several other data sheets that I have found beneficial including Handwriting Without Tears data sheets, which are free! You can find them here. Also, I love School Bells N Whistles Pre-K Assessments Kinder Special Ed data pack. You can purchase it here. I recommend taking a look at the various sheets and see what works best for you and your caseload.

Utilizing Google Forms

You may call me old fashioned, but, I, personally, feel more comfortable collecting data on a piece of paper before inputing the information into the computer. I have found that collecting data using a computer or iPad while I am performing assessments is a MAJOR distraction to my students. They are more focused on what I am doing on the computer/iPad than they are on the tasks in front of them. With that said, AFTER I have collected data in my binder, I input the information into Google Forms. I do this anywhere from every other week to once a month. Goole Forms is a HUGE help when collecting IEP goal data and behavior data. The forms allow me to generate charts. They also allow me to ensure that my data is saved in two places. I can also quickly share information with administrators or general education teachers. This has especially been beneficial when addressing behavior issues. You can read all about how to create a Google Form for IEP data collection here. Thank you Gabrielle Dixon of Teaching Special Thinkers for sharing such an amazing idea! 

Organizing Student Goal Work

In addition to my teacher data binder, I want to show you how I organize my student goal work. I use a ten drawer utility cart for my student goal work. Each student has a drawer that contains activities that are specific to their IEP goals. I also have several drawers for essential data collection materials, such as flashcards and velcro/laminated tasks. Right now, I love using the flashcards and manipulatives that I found in the target dollar section. I also have TONS of flashcards from my data collection product (you can purchase it here). This organization system allows me to quickly assess my student work and assess students as needed in the classroom. This system has worked for me. You can buy the ten drawer cart on Amazon. (If you purchase please use my affiliate link:10 Drawer Cart.)

Behavior Data

When it comes to behavior data, there are a variety of data collection methods and sheets that can be used. I will be addressing behavior data collection in a later blog post; however, for MILD behavior concerns, I like to use a daily behavior report card. I send these home to my students' parents. I make a copy of the report and send a copy home. This allows me to have a record for my information and data collection. It also ensures that I am communicating well with parents. I recommend either one of these data sheets. One was created by Traci Bender of The Bender Bunch. You can download it here for FREE. The other sheet was created by Christine Reeves of Autism Classroom News. You can purchase it here. I keep these on clipboards by my desk. I fill them out throughout the day for various students in my class depending on their IEP goals. Be looking for more behavior tracking and data collection tips and tricks in a later post.