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Sunday, 15 February 2015

Sunday Share

Happy belated Valentine's Day to everyone!  I hope you had a great day with your loved ones!  I was spoiled by my hubbie and had a relaxing massage followed by a lobster dinner and bottle of one of my favourite wines!  He definitely knows the way to this girl's heart!  

Anyway, for this week's Sunday Share, I thought I would share my top five Autism blogs and TPT stores.  In a previous post, I wrote about the Teachers Pay Teachers website and what a time saver it is. Today, I will be sharing my 5 of my favourite autism sellers and bloggers.

First up is the Autism Classroom News blog by Christine Reeve. I discovered her blog about a year ago and have followed it ever since. She is a wealth of knowledge and I love her products, especially for functional literacy and math skills. Currently, she is a consultant working with school districts to support students with autism, their teachers/staff and families. Most of her blog posts, products and books are born out of experience of what works in the classroom and a need of a teacher or a student.

The Autism Helper is written by Sasha Long.  Sasha is a board certified behavior analyst and certified special education teacher with eight years of experience in a premier autism program.  I love Sasha's video tours of her classroom and her tips for organization.  She is one organized teacher!  She has some great products for data collection and organization and some really helpful social story packets.

I recently discovered the autism classroom blog written by a former teacher and current school consultant.  Only known as S.B. Linton, she creates books, resources and materials for teachers of student with ASD.  In particular, I like her fine motor task cards.  Her blog is part of a larger site, www.autismclassroom.com, which is designed to provide assistance to educators who are educating children with autism.

The Autism Adventures of Room 83 is written by a teacher who teaches third-sixth grade severely handicapped class. She blogs about all of her ideas and creations she has implemented in her classroom. She has a great selection of products, especially social stories.

Teaching Special Thinkers is written by Gabrielle Dixon who teaches K-2 students with autism.  She shares a lot of great organizational and work task ideas and has some very useful products in her TPT store, such as her adapted art packs.

Well that's it for today!  Do you have a favourite blog or TPT store?  I'd love to hear about them!  Send me an email or leave a comment below.

Until next time,

Thursday, 12 February 2015

2014-2015 TLLP Project

This week I have been working on some items for my current TLLP project and thought I would share about the project with you today.  The Teacher Learning and Leadership Program (TLLP) is an annual project-based professional learning opportunity for experienced classroom teachers. The program funds proposals from classroom teachers who seek a peer leadership role in curriculum, instructional practice and/or supporting other teachers. The three goals of the program are to create and support opportunities for teacher professional learning, foster teacher leadership and facilitate the sharing of exemplary practices with others for the broader benefit of Ontario's students.

This is my second time participating in this program.  I participated in the program during the 2012-2013 academic year and did a project on the use of iPads as teaching tools for students with Autism Spectrum Disorders.  To learn more about this project, click here.  
For our 2014 TLLP project, we are investigating the use of an electronic curriculum planning and evaluation system for students currently not accessing the Ontario curriculum.  There are eight teachers at eight different schools in our school board participating in the project.  

Planning academic programs and evaluating progress for students with developmental disabilities is a challenging and somewhat daunting task for educators.  The existing Ontario currciulum often does not meet the developmental needs of students with complex special needs.  The Ministry of Education has acknowledged this gap and is currenlty working on developing a provincial framework to address this issue.  As such, this project aims to contribute to this framework by investigating the use of an electronic system that will allow teachers and educational assistants to improve the development, delivery and evaluation of educational programs that are based on alternative curriculums.  

The Individual Curriculum Builder (ICB) is a comprehensive, evidence based system for creating, implementing and evaluating special education programs for students with developmental disabilities. Based on the Hawaii Early Learning Profile (HELP), the ICB has three components to it.  

The first component is a software program that allows teachers to design the students' educational programs based on the goals outlined in the student's IEP.  By using the software, the teacher can create the student's daily schedule, and align his/her IEP goals to each subject/activity in the schedule.  The ICB then provides a pre-written (individualizable) lesson plan of how the skill will be taught, using evidence based teaching practices (eg. Structured Learning and Applied Behaviour Analysis), and describes how the skill will be assessed (ie., trial by trial data collection).

All of the information inputted into the software program is then transmitted to an iPad  application called the Mobile Individual Curriculum (MIC), which is the second component of this system.  The MIC’s prewritten lesson plans specify how the skills will be taught, how to correct errors, what type of reinforcement to use and when to deliver it, what type of data will be collected and the mastery criteria for the skill.  When a teacher or EA is teaching a skill, the MIC displays key notes from the lesson plan, providing immediate, readily available, on the job coaching for educators to assist them in learning to use evidence-based teaching methods, specifically, Applied Behaviour Analysis and Structured Learning.  In addition, because the MIC is tied directly to the student’s daily plan, built-in clock and timer functions are available so any educator always knows exactly what to teach, and when. 

The third component involves Teachers and Educational Assistants (EAs) using the MIC to collect assessment data while teaching the student.  The assessment data collected will include trial by trial data, digital recordings and photos of student work.  The trial by trial data will be transmitted back to the IBC where it is automatically graphed and analysed, and recommendations for next steps are provided to the educator, based on the student's performance.  The data can be reviewed at any time and will inform teaching practices for each IEP goal.

I know it's hard to conceptualize, so I made this introductory video for anyone who is interested in learning more about the program.

Until next time,

Monday, 9 February 2015

Structured Learning Part 2 - Visual Schedules

Welcome to part two of my four part series on Structured Learning.  Today's focus is on visual schedules.  

What is a Visual Schedule?

A visual schedule communicates the sequence of upcoming activities or events through the use of objects, photographs, icons, words, or a combination of tangible supports. A visual schedule tells a student WHERE he/she should be and WHEN he/she should be there. Visual schedules are designed to match the individual needs of a student, and may vary in length and form.

Why do I Visual Schedules with Students with ASD?

Visual schedules enhance receptive language and assist in providing meaning to students. Years of research has indicated that students with autism have a number of strengths, including visuospatial skills and sustained attention (Quill, 1997). Though students with ASD may have difficulty attending to and processing lengthy verbal requests, such as directives on where to go in the classroom or when an activity will begin, research has shown that students are able to attend to visual information more successfully (Garretson, Fein, & Waterhouse, 1990). If an adult provides verbal information on the upcoming sequence of events, students with ASD may have difficulty with the rapid comprehension required and the fleeting nature of verbal language. If a student forgets the information, there is no concrete system for the student to refer to. Visual schedules assist with comprehension, providing another channel for learning, and are easily accessible should a student need to be reminded of the day’s events.

Visual schedules also help students with ASD in becoming independent of adult prompts and cues (Mesibov, Shea, & Schopler, 2005). Teaching students with autism to follow visual schedules, rather than being moved around the classroom or through activities by staff members, increases the likelihood that students will become independent of adult delivered prompts. Recent research confirms that shifting from verbal prompts to visual prompts can increase student independence and engagement, as well as decrease the need for adult supports (Green, 2001). Though students may continue to rely on the visual stimulus to direct them to appropriate locations, it is not unlike me (or most of us) who need calendars to help stay organized and punctual. 

Visual schedules are also an important tool in reducing anxiety in students with ASD, while teaching flexibility. Students with autism may feel anxious if the expectations are not understood or if predictable routines are not in place. A visual schedule provides a clear external structure for the school day, and may be physiologically calming for students. Though activities should vary throughout the day and week, the routine of using a visual schedule can provide safety and predictability. Classroom staff is responsible for varying the sequence of events regularly (i.e. math is first on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays and reading is first on Tuesdays and Thursdays) while ensuring that the visual schedule is used consistently to provide information to students. Ultimately, the visual schedule can teach students that a change in the sequence of activities is acceptable because the routine of using the visual schedule is consistent and reliable. 

How Do I Implement Visual Schedules?

The first step in using visual schedules with students is to design the format of the schedule based on the individual needs of the student. Teachers may consider the comprehension level, attention span, sequencing abilities and other skills a student demonstrates. Division TEACCH identified five areas to consider when designing visual schedules for students (Cox & Boswell, 1999).

1. Form of representation: Consider what form of information would consistently be most meaningful to the student. Staff may determine that objects, photos, icon drawings, or words (or a combination of forms) are most easily understood by the student. For example, with a concrete learner, using Lego blocks to represent the play area may be most meaningful, while a photo of the play area may be appropriate for some students, and an icon representation of the play area may be meaningful for others. 

2. Length of schedule and presentation format: After determining how the information will be represented, staff must consider how much information will be presented to the student at one time. Some students may be most successful with one piece of information visible at a time, while others are able to be successful with a short sequence of activities or up to a full day of information presented at a time. It is important to assess the student’s ability to sequence information, the anxiety level of the student (presenting too little or too much information may cause a student to worry), and the student’s ability to handle changes in the information presented (if a full day of information is presented it is more likely that unforeseeable changes will occur). Once length is determined, the classroom team must decide how to present the information to the student—1 piece at a time, in a left-to-right or top-to-bottom format, or using multiple rows of information. 

3. Way of manipulating the schedule:  The next step is determining how the student will move the schedule materials throughout the day. If the student is using objects to depict where to go, staff may decide that the “schedule objects” will be used in the activity (i.e. student will play with the Legos after arriving in the play area). Staff may also decide that students will carry the schedule item and match it to an identical item (object, photo, icon, word card) upon arriving at the assigned destination. Carrying schedule items to the location can often assist students in remembering where they are headed without additional adult reminders (i.e. asking students “Where are you supposed to be?”), and provides reinforcement for the student when they match the item to the corresponding container. If students no longer need to carry schedule information with them to a location, students may mark off the activity when it is finished.

4. Location of the schedule: When initially teaching a student how to use a schedule, staff may decide to bring the schedule information to the student. As students become familiar with the schedule, and understand where to go, schedules may be posted in a central location in the classroom, such as a table, shelf, wall, or desk. When it is time to transition, students can go to this central and neutral location (a “transition area”) to get their schedule information. Or, if students are independent in their schedule usage they may begin to carry a portable schedule with them from activity to activity. The visual schedule may be placed in a binder or on a clipboard that students move with them throughout the day. 

5. Initiation of use of the schedule: Finally, staff needs to determine how a student will know when it is time to check his/her schedule. Initially staff may bring schedule information to the student at the culmination of an activity, however most students will eventually go to a transition area when cued. Visual cues are often most effective to signal to students that a transition is occurring and that information about an upcoming activity can be found on their schedules. Staff may decide to use a card with the student’s name on it or a favorite picture as the cue. When students are given this cue, they may carry it to their schedule, place it in a matching pocket or container, and then refer to the next activity on the visual schedule. Using this cue consistently is an excellent tool in helping students know when to transition, and when to remain in an activity or location. The use of a visual cue also reduces dependency on adult prompts during transitions. 

What Do I Do Next?

After matching the design of the visual schedule to the student’s strengths and needs and making all of the schedule materials, staff then need to begin to teach the student how to use the schedule. Students must be explicitly taught how to manipulate the materials, where the designated locations are, and how and when to transition throughout the day. When teaching a student to use the schedule, it is most effective to minimize adult delivered prompts (Green, 2001). Prompt the student from behind so the schedule materials are in the student’s visual field, instead of the adult, and plan to fade the prompts as quickly as possible. Use only relevant language, identifying the location where the student is going (i.e. “Play area” instead of “Come on, Steve, we’re going over to the play area. I think you are going to love it!”). This promotes student independence, as a primary goal of schedule use is independent movement throughout the classroom and school building when appropriate. 

Once a student has mastered independent usage of the visual schedule, staff can decide how to continue to improve the student’s skills. Staff may decide to change the form of the schedule from pictures to words if the student has become a fluent reader, or may decide to increase the length of the schedule from part-day to full-day. It is important for everyone to remember, however, that a more complex visual schedule is not necessarily “better”. The goal is independent usage, so the types and forms of schedules used may vary widely in one classroom. 

What tips do you have for using visual schedules in the classroom?  Please share!
Until next time,

Sunday, 8 February 2015

Sunday Share!

Hello Friends!  Happy Sunday and welcome back to my second Sunday Share!  Every Sunday I will share resources with you, so make sure you visit each week!  Today's focus is on apps for Autism.  There are so many apps on the market now that it can be difficult to know whether an app will be useful or not.  I did a research project on using iPads with students with Autism in 2013-2014.  During the course of that project, I was able to purchase and test a number of apps with my students.  Today, I am going to share a few of my favourites with you.

When I first introduced iPads to my students, some of them didn't have a strong pointing response.  They tried to operate the iPad with their whole hand, instead of using one finger.  While that may work in some apps, such as Fireworks or Somantics, for most you need to use one finger to tap icons and activate the app.  So, to teach these students to use their index finger to point, we used Dexteria Jr.

Dexteria Jr. is a set of hand and finger exercises to develop fine motor skills and handwriting readiness.  It includes activities that require students to use one finger to squish the vegetables, another that improves pincer grasp by pinching the vegetables and tracing activities.  For $3.49, it's a great app that my students and OT love!

Another great app for working on fine motor skills is Ready to Print. It has some similar activities as Deteria Jr., but has many more levels for students to work through.  Ready to Print progresses through the pre-writing skills in a specific order, so that children can master the visual-motor, visual-perceptual, and fine motor skills necessary for correct printing patterns. It is designed to teach children the correct patterns for printing, and to avoid bad habits that are difficult to change as the child gets older.   In the latest version, Ready to Print features 194 separate levels in 13 activities. The latest addition is the Touch and Drag activity, which helps students work on movement in one of four specific directions.

One app I use as part of our literacy program is First Words Deluxe.  It's a fun spelling game that the kids love!  It features 174 words with a built in faded visual prompt, cute graphics and fun animations.This app also has great settings that let you control the level of difficulty for the child – either with lots of hints or almost none at all. The letters slide nicely into each word and when completed the child is rewarded by having the pictured animal enlarge and animate briefly.

Another app I use for literacy instruction is I Like Books.  It features 37 picture books using real life photos and has one sentence per page.  Each book has a repetitive story allowing students to build their sight word vocabulary.  Students can choose to have the story read to them, read it by themselves or read it while pointing to each word.  The words are highlighted as students read the sentences and also spoken, so the student can hear what the word says. 

The last app I want to share with you today is by far the best educational app for students with Autism.  Bitsboard offers 25 different games to teach receptive and expressive vocabulary, reading, spelling, writing, sequencing and tracing letters.  With this app, you have access to the Bitsboard catalog which contains thousands of flashcards and pre-made lessons covering hundreds of categories and topics.  It is also fully customizable to meet the specific learning needs of your students and allows you to create your own DTT lessons.  Bitsboard also allows you to set up multiple users and track their progress with each lesson. And the best part of all...IT'S FREE!!!  


That's all for today!  If you have any questions about these apps, leave a comment or send me an email.  I'd love to hear from you!  And make sure to come back next Sunday for more great resources!  Enjoy your day!

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Work Basket Wednesday!

Happy Hump Day!  I am excited to participate in my first Workbasket Wednesday Link-Up hosted by Christine Reeve at www.autismclassroomnews.com!  To see all of the other link-ups, click on the picture below.  Today, I am going to show you some Valentine's Day themed tasks that I made for students to complete during their independent work, or work alone time, as we like to call it!

Workbasket Wednesday at Autism Classroom News

After a quick trip to the Dollar Tree and Dollarama, I had all of the supplies I needed to make my Valentine's Day themed tasks!  It's amazing how many tasks you can make with just a few items!  I do have to admit that I may have gone overboard a little, but in my defence there were so many cute items!  First up are some cute bingo dauber sheets that I found on DLTK-Kids that make simple workbasket tasks when use you pompoms with them!

Next, I made these simple put in tasks with pompoms, foam heart stickers, erasers and table scatter.  The containers in the upper left photo are from the kitchen section section at The Dollar Tree and came in a package of two, as did the paint pots in the bottom right photo.  The other containers came in a package of ten.  They are small, but perfect for tasks like this!  

Next, I made some sorting tasks.  It is important to generalize skills, so I like to include a few different ways of doing one task to make sure that students have truly mastered the skill.  These tasks involve sorting by colour, size, colour and size and appearance.

I still had materials left, so I made some matching tasks!

That's it for today!  Thanks for stopping by and if you would more information on how I made these, or a downloadable file of the matching boards, please comment below, or send me an email!  I would love to hear from you!

Monday, 2 February 2015

Structured Learning Environment - Part 1

Good morning!  I hope everyone is enjoying their snow day!  I know I am!  Today, I am going to start my four-part series on Structured Learning Environment (SLE).  My classroom is based on the SLE Model, so I think it is important to explain why using this model is so effective for students with Autism.  This is a lengthy post, so grab a coffee or tea, sit back and enjoy!  

Structured Teaching is a set of teaching techniques developed by Division TEACCH (Training and Education of Autistic and related Communication- handicapped Children), a state-wide program serving individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) in North Carolina.  Along with the structured teaching strategies, the model emphasizes an extensive understanding of autism, partnering with families, individualized assessment when developing and implementing strategies, and the development of skills across curriculum areas (with attention to the development of communication and social skills). Structured teaching strategies can be implemented across settings and across curriculum area, as they serve as a vehicle to teach skills, and/or as a framework for a classroom setting.

These teaching strategies are based on an understanding of how autism impacts the thinking, learning, and behavior of an individual with ASD. Differences in auditory processing, imitation, motivation, and organization can hinder the educational success of students with ASD, as most traditional teaching strategies rely heavily on verbal instructions, demonstration, social reinforcement, and sequencing chunks of information or directives. Structured Teaching strategies, however, capitalize on the strengths of students with ASD. These include providing predictable and meaningful routines through the use of structure, adding visual/structural supports to classroom instruction and activities to increase engagement and independence, and clearly organizing classroom spaces and teaching materials to reduce anxiety and increase appropriate behaviour. 

There are five elements of Structured Teaching that build on one another, and all emphasize the importance of predictability and flexible routines in the classroom setting. Division TEACCH developed a visual to illustrate the Structured Teaching components— the Structured Teaching pyramid:

The Physical Structure

Physical structure is the foundation of structured teaching and is helpful in ensuring that learning is occurring in the classroom. Physical structure refers to the way each area in the classroom environment is set up and where materials and furniture are placed. A physically structured classroom provides organization for students and helps the staff, students, and classroom visitors understand what activities are occurring in each area of classroom at any given time. 

Why Do I Use Physical Structure with My Students with ASD?

Establishing a supportive classroom environment for students with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is an important component to consider when planning and implementing instruction. Research has consistently indicated that the way the classroom environment is arranged influences the learning of individuals with ASD (Hurth, Shaw, Izeman, Whaley, & Rogers, 1999). Additionally, research has found that students in organized and structured classrooms demonstrate more on-task behavior and higher academic achievement (Heflin & Alberto. 2001). Whether students are served in general education settings, self-contained settings, or any combination of locations, an organized classroom is key. 

How Do I Implement Physical Structure?

There are two key concepts to consider when organizing your classroom. The first is:

Create clear physical and/or visual boundaries to help students know where each area begins and ends.

Segmenting the environment helps clarify expectations. Once students are taught expected behaviors for each space in the classroom, the distinct areas become powerful cues for appropriate behavior. Boundaries may also help communicate to younger students, or those who are impulsive or motor-driven, where each area begins and ends and where they are supposed to be/stay in the classroom during specific activities. These boundaries are not intended to “contain” students, as most of them can be easily climbed over or walked around, they are simply intended to exaggerate the cues about classroom spaces and expectations. 

The second key concept in organizing the classroom is to:

Minimize auditory and visual distractions.

This helps students to focus on the concepts that are being taught instead of details that may not be relevant, and reduces competing distractions. Often when students with ASD are presented with too much stimulus (visual or auditory), processing may slow down, or if overloaded, processing may stop completely. 

Minimizing distractions involves considering how much information is posted on classroom walls, and determining if what is posted is relevant to the class activity. Teachers may consider reducing the amount of stimuli in the classroom, or may decide to hang information out of the field of vision of the most distractible students (i.e. behind the students, in a center area that doesn’t require as much attention or focus). Putting all extraneous materials and supplies in cabinets, boxes, drawers or folders is beneficial, and covering open shelves with solid colored fabric can be helpful as well. Considering sources of noise like the hallway, playground, cafeteria, bathroom, and intercom is also important when organizing classroom spaces. Similarly, visual distractions like windows, doorways, reflective surfaces, fans, computer screens, ceiling decorations, and classroom traffic should be assessed when designing the classroom space to meet the needs of a student with ASD. Often these distractions can be easily covered with butcher paper, fabric, cardboard, or the item and/or student can be moved to a better location. 

How I Use Visual Boundaries To Define Classroom Areas    

In this photo, you can see that there are many shelves in my classroom.  These shelves are used as dividers to define classroom areas and set boundaries.

In this photo, you can see that I have used shelves to separate our carpet time area from the play area and teaching table (one-on-one instruction) area.

Our carpet area is defined by the area rug and the shelves on either side and behind it.  The SMART board is the focal point for this area and students know that when they come to this area, we will be using the SMART board for the lesson.

This is our Teaching Table area, where students receive their one-on-one instruction.  The shelving unit holds all of the students teaching materials for their IEP goals.  This area allows for two students to use the area at the same time.

This is our Gross Motor/Play area.  It is the largest area in the classroom as we currently have very young students in the room for whom the main focus for learning is on engagement, communication and play skills.  

The play area is defined on one side by these cabinets which hold our task boxes, play script kits, and other educational toys.

On the other side of the play area is this cabinet which holds our larger toys.

This is the independent work area which is defined by my desk and large storage cabinets.  This is the smallest area in our classroom and is designed to only accommodate one student at a time.

This is one of the tables we use for centers.  My desk and filing cabinet are on one side and the wall of cabinets is on the other.  This area is also used by staff for prep work as all of our materials are stored in this area.

This the student's table where they eat their snack and lunch.  We also use this table for centers.  One side is a wall of cupboards and on another their cubbies and the group teaching table is on the other side.

Lisa and Jodi, my lovely EAs!

This is the group teaching table and it is located beside the mealtime area.  As you can see, the student's cubbies are on side of it and shelves on the other.  The shelves hold materials for our group lessons and flashcards used for Discrete Trial Training (DTT).

Finally, this is my desk which acts a divider between the independent work area and the center area.

Tips for Implementing Physical Structure:

1.  Establish organizational systems in the classroom at the beginning of the year and teach all students how to use them. Designating clear locations for specific materials such as homework, notes home, school supplies, and personal items is helpful.  A structured classroom will benefit many students, not just those on the autism spectrum.

2.  The organizational needs of students with ASD will vary individual by individual. Continued assessment of how the classroom environment is impacting the student’s behaviour and attention will be required, and regular organizational changes may need to be made throughout the school year. 

If you have any questions or comments about this post or my classroom, please post them below or send me an email.  I'd love to hear your thoughts!  Thanks for stopping by and enjoy your snow day!

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