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Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Tech Tips for iPads

For special education teachers around the world, iPads open up a world of possibilities.  I have been using iPads with my students for 5 years now and am still learning about of all the features on them!  I love using iPads with my students because of the number of wonderful tools built into the system.  The accessibility options are perfect for a special education classroom like mine.  But, I am guessing that some of you, like me didn't know they existed or how to use them.  I have compiled a list of 20 tips and tricks to help you in using iPads in the most effective way with your students.

1)  Protective Cases

Before you start using iPads with your students, I would suggest you do some research and get the appropriate protective case.  My students are rough on iPads and I know that they will be dropped, stepped on and thrown.  We invested in Otterbox cases because of their durability and the lifetime warranty that comes with them.  If the case gets broken, simply take a picture and send it to the Otterbox company and they will send you a new case free of charge! Other cases that I like are Griffin Survivor, Gumdrop, iGuy and Big Grips.

2)  Labelling the iPads

Each of my students have their own iPad that they work on.  They contain specific apps for that student to use to work on IEP goals and reinforcing apps that are geared to the student's individual preferences.  In order to easily identify which iPad belongs to which student, I changed the desktop backgrounds.  All you need to do is go to Settings >  Wallpaper, and then tap wallpaper. From here, tap "Choose a New Wallpaper" to change the lock screen wallpaper and the wallpaper you'll see behind your app icons on your home screen.

3)  Apps, Apps and more Apps

There are a ton of great apps on in the App Store, some free and most at a cost.  It is easy to get overwhelmed or carried away with all the cool apps.  When I first got my iPads, I downloaded so many apps that I thought were great that we quickly ran out of storage space and the iPads were confusing to navigate.  My advice:  do some research and choose apps that are versatile or have many levels and get progressively more difficult so you can get more use out of fewer apps.  Some of my favourites are Bitsboard, Ready to Print, I Like Books, Special Numbers, and Special Words.  Also, look for apps that are customizable and allow you to enter your own content.

4)  Get Free Apps

We all have limited budgets, so when I can get things for free, it make my teacher heart happy!  Alligator Apps offers free apps, for a limited time, when you join their free app club.  You will receive emails notifying you when their apps are available for free.  Their apps are structured in a similar manner to running discrete trials, which are perfect for my students with ASD!

5)  Group Apps Into Folders

Variety is the spice of life!  I like to use a few different apps to work on the same skill to keep my students interested and engaged.  To make these apps easy to find and to declutter the home screen, I group them into folders.  To do this, touch and hold your finger on the app icon until you enter edit mode (the icons begin to jiggle). To make a new folder, drag the app icon on top of another one that you want in the same folder.  A new screen will appear with a suggested title at the top.  Tap the word and type to change it.  For existing folders, simply drag the app icon to that folder. 

6)   Download Previously Purchased Apps

As my students make progress, I often delete apps that they no longer use from their iPad.  When I get new students, however, I find that they need that particular app and I have to put it on their iPad.  Fortunately, I do not have to buy this app again.  I can simply go into the app store, tap on "purchased" at the bottom of the screen and see all of the apps that I have already purchased.  From there, I just tap on the cloud with the arrow and it downloads the app onto the iPad.

7)  Create Shortcuts

For students who cannot type on their own, I like to make shortcuts to their frequently used websites on the home screen.  To do this, tap on the Safari icon to open a webpage.  Type in the address and then tap on the box with an arrow beside the address box.  A menu of options will appear, tap "Add to Home Screen" and then "Add".  An icon for that website will appear on your home screen.

8)  Restrictions

Before you put an iPad in the hands of your students, you may want to turn on some restrictions.  I didn't know about setting restrictions when I first got my iPads and one day I had to delete 829 photos that one of my students had taken.  With restrictions, you can limit what your students have access to on the iPad, including the internet, camera, the iTunes and App stores to name a few.  To set restrictions, go to Settings > General > Restrictions.  You will have to enter your 4 digit passcode to enable restrictions.  From there, you just move the switch to turn certain features off.

9)  Guided Access

This has been a lifesaver in my classroom!  Sometimes, my students don't want to work on the app I want them to work on.  And being so smart, they know how to get out of the app.  But, thanks to guided access, they can longer get out of the app, until I decide they are finished!  To set up guided access, tap on Settings > General > Accessibility and then scroll down to find Guided Access.  Tap on it and then move the switch to turn it on.  Then tap on Passcode Settings to set the Guided Access Passcode.  Then select an app and triple-click the home button to turn Guided Access on.  You can also set Time Limits with alarms to let students know when their required time in a certain app is finished.  

10)  Create Instructions Using Screencasting

While iPads are very intuitive, sometimes I want to teach my students how use certain apps or features independently.  On of the best ways to do this is by creating a video model.  I have researched different ways to do this and the best method I have come across is by using an app called Reflector 2.  It allows you to mirror what's on your iPad to your Mac or PC and record what's happening on your iPad screen as well as audio of you talking or giving instructions.  It's a bit more work than I'd like, but it's the only app I have found that allows you to add audio.

11)  MultiTasking Gestures

Multitasking gestures can be useful, but I find that they really aren't that useful for most of my students as they have fine motor difficulties and use these gestures more by accident than purposefully.  Basically, these allow you to navigate your iPad a little more easily.  There are three main gestures involving 4 or 5 of your fingers to pinch to the home screen, swipe up to the app switcher and swipe left or right between apps.  If you want to use them, you can turn them on by going to Settings > General > Gestures and moving the switch to on.  You can do the same thing to turn them off.

12)  Limit Max Volume

I don't know about you, but some of my students like to play with the volume and crank to the highest level.  This can not only be annoying, but also damaging to their ears.  That's why I love that I can be in control of high the volume will go by setting a maximum volume level.  The first step in the process is to lower the maximum volume by tapping Settings and then scrolling down and selecting Music. Next, tap Volume Limit and pull down the volume slider to the maximum volume level you've decided on. Then, tap the back arrow until you're back at the main menu.  Then go to Restrictions and scroll down to where it says Volume Limit. Tap that, change it to "Don't Allow Changes" and then back all the way out to the main menu.

13)  Talk Instead of Type

I love this feature for my students who are not yet typing, but can speak clearly.  They can convey their thoughts by saying them and then the iPad will convert that to written language for them!  Use this feature to send emails, texts or write stories.  Simply, tap the Dictate buttonthe Dictate button on the keyboard and speak your words (including punctuation), then tap Done.

14)  Let The iPad Read For You

This is a great feature for kiddos learning to read.  The iPad can speak selected text, or the entire screen. Explore the options in Settings > General > Accessibility > Speech.

15)  Remove Webpage Clutter

Our students can get distracted, a lot!  This feature reduces distractions on webpages by getting rid of the ads.  Heck, I could use this feature!  The Reader in Safari makes articles easier to read by getting rid extraneous stimuli. When you see the Reader button in the search field, tap it to see just the text and photos — without ads.

16)  Quickly Open the Camera

Have you had a moment when you wanted to capture your student doing something, but it took too long to get to the camera and you missed it?  Well, this may help.  When iPad is locked, swipe up or left to access the camera, depending on your IOS.  Then you can take photos and videos and hopefully capture that special moment.  

17)  Find it Fast

Need to find an app fast?  Can't find it by scrolling?  Search your iPad, the Internet, nearby places, the weather, and more — from anywhere on your iPad. Just swipe down from the top of the screen to show Search.

18)  Close All Of Your Safari Tabs At Once

My students (and staff) have a bad habit of keeping a bunch of webpages open at the same time.  the one drawback of Safari is that it opens new tabs for webpages when you click on an external link on a page.  I have had 15+ tabs opened on an iPad at a time!  It's a pain to have close each one these individually.  Thankfully, you can just touch and hold the Pages button.the Pages buttonto close all of them at once.

19)  Quickly Find A Photo

Photos automatically identifies places and objects in your pictures, so you can search for them. You can search for beach or dachshunds, for example.

20)  Zoom In

There are a couple of ways to zoom in on pictures and print.  The first way is to double tap on the picture you want to zoom in on.  Zoom out by double tapping again.  The second way is to use your thumb and forefinger to pinch in and out.   

Do you have any cool tips or tricks?  Share them below!  Thanks for stopping by!  Until next time,

Friday, 31 March 2017

Cheap No Prep Work Tasks!

Happy Friday everyone!  It's my day to post on the We Teach SPED page and since it's Friday, I thought I'd keep it light and simple!  I have been seeing lots of awesome posts on work task systems and ideas lately and wanted to share some of my favourite cheap and quick no prep, well almost no prep tasks.

Paint Chip Tasks 

Tell me I am not the only teacher who goes to Home Depot with a big purse and fills it up with paint chips!  But who can resist free materials?!  Plus, there are so many different things you can do with them!  

Here are a few ways I use them:

  • colour matching tasks; use clothespins and make it a fine motor task as well
  • use as colour sorting mats with paperclips, pompoms, possible sticks, erasers
  • cutting practice; you can get paint chips that have a number of lines from one to five, so you can increase the work load as the students progresses

 Put-In Tasks

These are so quick and simple to put together, but are great for working on fine motor skills, such as pincer grasp.  My favourites are ones made from recycled containers such as tea tins, chip cans and spice jars.  I also love using travel games from the Dollar Store for more difficult put in tasks.  What can be easier than opening a package to make a work task???

Life Skill Tasks

I love teaching my students functional skills that they will use for the rest of their lives.  I also love it when I find cheap materials to use to teach these skills.  I love it even more when I find cheap materials that are already packaged up as work tasks!  I found these tasks at my local Dollarama and Dollar Tree.  My students are using them to practice sorting cutlery, matching and screwing on lids (a great fine motor skill), packaging toothbrushes into containers and cutting food in a safe manner.

Dollar Store Finds

I know I am not alone when I get excited over finding a great deal on items to make work tasks.  This is one of my favourites:

All three boxes of these cards came in one package for just a $1.  That means you get three, no/low prep work tasks for $1!  You could make file folder games with these or do like I did and just throw them in a baggie/bin!  There are also 3 different skills to work on:  matching identical pictures, matching number to quantity and making words.  When get three decks of cards for $1, you get what you pay for.  The number matching game is missing the cards for the number 5 !

Well, that's it for me today!  I am off to have a nice glass of wine, eat some pizza and watch Netflix!  Have a great weekend and thanks for stopping by!

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Independent Work Systems: Which One Is Right For Your Classroom?

The desire for, and movement towards independence, is a typical developmental milestone for children. The feeling of accomplishment and competence is meaningful and motivating to children as they begin to complete tasks with minimal adult prompting or guidance. The goal of independence is a priority for all children, yet when working with children with ASD, independence is the key to successful community inclusion and future employment.

Work Systems to Increase Independence 

A work system is a strategy that addresses independence as an essential outcome for students with ASD. A work system, an element of structured teaching, is defined by Division TEACCH® as a systematic and organized presentation of tasks and materials that visually communicates at least four pieces of information to the student (Schopler, Mesibov, & Hearsey, 1995): 

1.  The tasks/steps the student is supposed to do. What is the nature of the task? Does it involve sorting by shape, writing an address, making popcorn, or recycling cans?
2.  How many tasks/steps there are to be completed. Visually represent how much work is to be done. If a student is to cut 10 coupons, give only 10 coupons so he/she can visualize completion. Steps may be represented by more abstract cues such as numbers, shapes, poker chips, or pictures of high interest items, such as Thomas the Train cars. 
3.  How the student knows he/she is finished. The student should independently recognize the end of the activity through the structure within the task, use of a finished box, timer, or other visual cue such as a stop sign. 
4.  What to do when he/she is finished. Indicate next scheduled activity. May need to use a highly desired item/activity to increase motivation, though often being “finished” is motivating enough.

A work system provides all of the required information without adult prompting and teaches the student to attend to visual cues (rather than verbal directives) when completing a task. Work systems can be used with any type of task or activity (e.g., academic, self-help, leisure), across settings (e.g., independent work area, cafeteria, place of employment), and for individuals at all functioning levels (e.g., systems can range from concrete to abstract). 

Choosing the Right System(s) for your Classroom

Given there are a variety of types and ways to use independent work systems, how do you know which one is right for your students?  

1.  Consider the Learner and the Environment:
  • Is the student able to match colours, shapes and numbers?  
  • Is the student able to read?
  • Is the student able to move from one area of the environment to another with little or no adult support?
2.  Determine whether a portable or stationary work system would be more appropriate:
  • Consider the student's need for predictability and routine 
  • What is the student's schedule? (e.g., moves from class to class, stays in one classroom). 
3.  Evaluate the learner’s concept of “finished”:
  • Can the student place all items into a “finished” box/shelf on his/her right?
  • Can he/she match visual symbols to corresponding task containers? 
  • Canteen student cross off each task from a list as the task is completed?

This information helps teachers determine what type of work system is most appropriate for each student. The format of the work system should allow the student to perform fluently on his/her own, so it is important to recognize that a more complex system is not “better” if the student cannot use it without adult support.

How I Implement Work Systems in My Classroom

I start my students on independent work systems almost immediately. It's never too soon to start building independence! Over the years, I have implemented independent work systems in a variety of ways based on students' needs. For my very early learners, I use bins that are set out on the table and the students completes the activity in each bin moving from left to right. With this method, we start with just one task, and add more as the student learns the system. The student uses a mini-schedule with letters to understand the sequence of activities. This is an example of what it would look like. The last symbol on the schedule is a picture of a preferred activity that the students gets to go to next as their reinforcement for completing the tasks.

Once the student learns the concept of independent work and demonstrates proficiency with the system described above, I move them onto an in/out, left/right bin system.  Students take the tasks out of the bin on the left, complete them and put them in the bin on the right.  When the bin on the left is empty, they are done their work.

All of the work tasks in our independent work are are organized by colour.  We have two levels of activities, with green being the easiest and blue being the hardest.  All of the tasks are labelled with dot stickers to indicate in which bin they belong.  Each student is assigned a colour based on their level of ability.  This chart is posted so that staff know which tasks each student should complete.  As students acquire more skills, they move up to the next level of tasks.

A nice feature with this system is that it's fairly portable.  So if a student needs to complete their work in a different area for some reason, we simply grab the bins and move them to another area in the classroom.  We use a variety of tasks for our independent work, including file folder games, lotto matching games, puzzles, 1:1 correspondence task cards, spelling/matching letters task cards, fine motor activities, etc.  The activities are in the students' bins are different every day and each time they complete their independent work throughout the day.  

I have one student who cannot open ziplock bags and another one who likes to rip bags, so I have been buying these Iris Photo Storage Boxes and making tasks to avoid these problems.  I love this system because it is so easy to keep neat and organized.  Plus, my students have no issues with opening and closing the boxes and they are sturdy so can't be broken easily!  Again, the tasks are colour coded according to level of difficulty.

When my students have acquired more academic skills, we move them on to a work system using binders.  The binders are great for students who are preparing for their transition out of my classroom and are spending more time in a regular classroom setting.  The binders are easily portable and take up a lot less space than the bins.  The activities in the binders depends on the student's skill level, but generally contain matching, sorting, counting, spelling and tracing tasks for my lower level students.  For my higher level students, the binders contain reading, printing, and math tasks, such as addition or time.

I added this last work system this year for my higher level students who need to start developing more age appropriate life skills.  Students who use this system follow a mini schedule and complete the tasks in the bins.  All of the tasks in these bins are chores that they could complete at home.  I make the students' parents aware of these tasks, so they can practice them and have their children generalize these skills to their home.

Because the students aren't following a mini-schedule with this system, we keep choice boards, and first/then boards in the area, so that students can choose their reinforcer before they start the work and have the visual reminder of what they get upon completion of the work.

Tips for Implementing Work Systems

  • Provide only the materials the student will need for the specific task/activity to decrease confusion. 
  • Use work systems in a variety of settings (e.g., circle time, social groups, playground, home, doctor visits) to increase generalization across location and adults. 
  • Teach the work system with minimally invasive prompts so the adult/prompts do not become part of the work routine (e.g., prompt nonverbally, direct students to visual cues, prompt from behind so adult is not part of the student’s visual field, fade prompts as quickly as possible to maximize independence). 
  • Create smaller, more portable work systems (e.g. in a notebook, file box) for students who travel to different settings throughout the school day. 

How do you run your independent work station?  I'd love to hear from you!  Leave me a comment or send me an email!  Thanks for stopping by!  Until next time,

Sunday, 5 March 2017

Build Independence in Your Students Across the Day

In our classrooms, there are many opportunities to teach a student to become independent across the day.  Let's look at part of my class schedule and the times during the day a student should be independent and the skills needed:
  • Entry Routine - remove backpack, coat and shoes.  Put on indoor shoes, unpack backpack and put items in their designated location.  Checking their schedules and going the first activity.
  • Morning Seat Work - getting their morning work book, choosing a spot to sit and completing the work in their book.  Putting their book in the "All Done" basket.  Checking their schedule and going to next activity.
  • Morning Meeting - ensure they have their communication device, choosing a spot to sit, getting a fidget toy if needed.  Remaining seated, answering questions, taking their turn when required.  Checking schedule when morning meeting is finished and going to next activity.
  • Independent Work Stations:  getting their work binder or work bins, getting a dry erase marker if needed and putting it away, completing their work, and putting their binder or bins away.  Checking their schedule and going to the next activity.

Now, let's just look at the skills that are required during mealtimes to be independent.
  1. Student must know it's time to eat.
  2. Student must be able to wash his/her hands.
  3. Student has to be able to get his/her lunch bag and bring it to the designated eating area.
  4. Student must be able to open their lunch bag.
  5. Student must be able to open the containers and packages in their lunches.
  6. Student must be able to feed him/herself.
  7. Student must be able to wipe their mouth and hands.
  8. Student must be able to remain seated while eating.
  9. Student must be able to wipe up any spills.
  10. Student must be able to throw away trash, close containers and put them back in their lunch bag.
  11. Student must be able to close their lunch bag.
  12. Student must be able to return their lunch bag to the correct storage place.
  13. Student must be able to know what to do next.
How many of these can your students do independently?  How many are they missing?  Our goal as educators goes beyond teaching information and skills...ultimately we want all our students to be able to participate as independently as possible in all facets of their life. 

Why does the goal of independence elude some students and educational teams?

Here are some common reasons:

Prompt Dependence

Students with ASD can easily become prompt dependent. That is, they are willing and able to do what is asked but have not learned that they can or should do tasks without being asked! Educational teams need to systematically reduce prompting and reward independent completion of steps in a task.

A Focus On Accuracy Over Independence

Teams that value accuracy over independence can inadvertently instil a mindset of incompetence. If someone is always helping the student to do a task faster or better by doing it for them, the student lacks the opportunity and eventually the will to try to do things on his own.

Failure To Fade Reinforcement

Some students come to expect that every action will be followed by a tangible reinforcer or by verbal praise, and will not do a task independently because there is no one to deliver the reinforcement if they work alone.

Lack Of Visual Supports

Students with ASD often have difficulty planning, managing their attention and processing or remembering verbal instructions. And many educational teams provide the adaptation of one to one adult support to help them accomplish particular goals. They fail to realize that visual supports can help the students complete a task without an adult to prompt and remind them.

 What can we do to correct this? 


Be alert to the level of prompting you are providing to get students with ASD to do a task.

Be particularly aware of how much verbal prompting you are providing. We want the student to use natural cues to recognize what they are to do next rather than only moving on to the next step when they hear the voice of the adult at their elbow. If you need to prompt, use gestural prompts over verbal prompts when possible (they are easier to fade). Give the student time to respond before prompting (wait 5 – 10 seconds). Visual supports can greatly assist you in fading prompting.

Be sure to praise efforts and attempts over accuracy.

How important is it that the student’s product look identical to his peers? Does he really need to complete all the math problems or would he be better to complete half all on his own? How important is it that his socks are put on right side in? The problem of demanding accuracy over independence can be particularly problematic in the case of the student with ASD who is intellectually capable and may be expected by his parents or teachers to perform at grade level or better. The pressure to keep up academically may cause the team to provide a lot of one to one support to help the student complete the required work at the expense of teaching independence. We must not lose sight of the fact that independence is also an important goal. Today's technology allows many students to compensate for the executive function deficits that may impede their organization of or attention to tasks. Teach them how to use the technology so they can do assignments on their own.

Avoid reinforcement dependency

To avoid the development of reinforcement dependency, teams must systematically fade reinforcement to the level of intermittent reinforcement when teaching a task. For initial learning, the child may need reinforcement for each attempt to complete a step. If the team is using a tangible reinforcer (e.g., a toy or an edible) they should pair verbal praise whenever they provide the toy or food. Then, the toy or edible can be provided for every third or fourth correct response while verbal praise continues. Finally, the toy or edible is only provided once in a while (intermittently) and verbal praise is also faded to a lower level.

Use visual supports... we all use them!

For the student who can’t read, picture symbols are available to help him see the steps necessary to completing a target. For the student who does read... provide written checklists, visual organizers and time lines. Teach him how to create his own visual supports so that he can stay organized and remember what to do.  I have written about the effective use of visual supports here. Visual supports can be used to break down the steps of any task. When the steps are put into pictures on a strip, the person with autism now has those for a handy reference. I’ve used this idea for routines like getting dressed, toileting, hand washing and brushing teeth. There are some great ideas for breaking down routines on the Do2Learn website. Thinking this forward, these tasks strips could be used for doing laundry, dishes and other household chores.

Start small and build on success. 

When teaching a new skill, it is important to break down the skill into smaller steps.  This is called Task Analysis.  You can either write your own or you get them online.   Once you have completed the task analysis, or read it, you can do a baseline on your students' current skills.  Knowing what steps your student can independently will allow you to know where to start teaching.  Often, backwards chaining or forwarding chaining are used to teach students to independently complete tasks like washing hands or operating a computer.  However, this teaching method isn't used for all tasks in which a student should be independent.

Let's look at a common scenario in my classroom.  Most of my students come into my classroom without the ability to open their food packages during mealtimes.  When teaching a student how to open packages when eating, we begin with teaching him/her to ask for help.  Once they have mastered the skill of asking for help, we focus on the skill of opening the package.  Once they request help, we only open the package a tiny bit, so that they have to open it the rest of the way.  Once they have mastered opening a portion, we teach them to open it from the beginning using modelling and physical prompts if necessary.  If a student doesn't have the physical strength to open some packages, then we teach them to use scissors to cut the package open.  We start by handing them the scissors and then teach them to go and get the scissors on their own.  

Some things to think about...

  • At your next team meeting, or on your own, come up with a list of all of the times throughout the day when your student relies on the adults in the room to do something for them.  Or when the adult automatically does something for the student, eg., get the student a pencil to complete a worksheet.  Take frequency data on this to help you and your team realize how many times this is actually happening.
  • Identify times of the day when you want your students to be completely independent, then identify the skills that are necessary to achieve this.
  • Do you have visual reminder strips posted in your classroom?  Do you have enough?  Think beyond personal care skills such as washing hands.  Do you have reminder strips for completing a worksheet?  For turning on a computer and logging in?

How do you teach your students to be independent?  What are your biggest challenges?  I'd love to know!  Thanks for stopping by!

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