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Thursday, 19 May 2016

Cool Resources for the SPED Classroom

The end of the school year is fast approaching, and if you are like me, you may be already thinking of what you would like to do differently next year.  And if you have a classroom budget provided by your school board, you may also have money that you need to spend before the end of the school year.  If this is your situation, then you may want to consider adding these to your wishlist!

Five SPED Classroom Must-Haves

1.  Iris Photo Box Organizer 

I love having an organized classroom - it's makes daily life in the classroom so much easier!  Plus, I like my room to be neat and tidy.  I discovered these photo boxes this year and fell in love!  They make organizing flashcards and extra PECS so easy.   They come with 16 individual cases which are housed in the larger box.  I use my label maker to label each box and now we can easily find what we need in a hurry.  I got mine at Micheal's (make sure you have a coupon, they're a bit pricey), but you can also find them on Amazon.

2.  Classroom Magnetic Number and Letter Sets  

These sets from Lakeshore Learning are great for math and literacy centers.  They make it easy to create hands-on learning activities for your students.  And I love how the boxes are organized!  It makes easy for students to find the letters or numbers they need.

3.  Kitchen Scissors

If you use edible reinforcers in your classroom, then you are going to need a good pair of kitchen scissors to cut those candies in half or quarters.  We try to stretch our edible reinforcers and make them last by cutting them into smaller pieces.  This also reduces the amount of junk food our students eat on a daily basis.  These scissors have made cutting those hard candies, like Skittles so much easy! We use the Cuisinart X Series ones.  I got mine at Canadian Tire on sale, but you can also get them at places like Costco or Walmart.

4.  Plastic CD/DVD Sleeves

I love using these for storing pieces for file folder games.   We used to use library pockets for this purpose, but after time, they would rip or the pieces would fall out.  We then switched to ziplock baggies, but found that our students had a difficult time opening these, and would often rip the bag to get the pieces out.  So then we tried Memorex plastic CD/DVD sleeves.  These are sturdy, have a flap that closes to keep the pieces inside and are easy to open.  But, this brand is a rather expensive option.  They cost about $10 for 50 sleeves.  So, I search Amazon to see if I could them for less and discovered a similar product, which cost $25 for 1000 sleeves.  The plastic on these ones isn't as thick as the Memorex brand, but they do hold up well and my students can open them easily.

5.  Thirty-One Oh Snap Pockets

If you are a teacher, then you may have heard of Thirty-One Gifts.  If you haven't, you should really check them out!  It's a direct sales company that sells cute and functional bags and organizing items.  My favourite teacher bags are from Thirty-One and one of my favourite classroom organizers is as well.  I love the Oh Snap Pockets because they are much more sturdy than other hanging pockets that I have bought from teacher stores.  The other nice feature is that you can snap them together eliminating the need for multiple hooks on your wall.  They have two versions, one that has a plain front (but you can add embroidered words) or one with a chalkboard front so you can label them with chalk and then change the label when you want.  I have both in my classroom and use them to store books, playdoh mats, play scripts and props, prepped art projects (we use Teaching Special Thinkers' Easy Art kits) and papers I need to file, or have handy.

Five Resources on My Wishlist

1.  Osmo

I was introduced to Osmo last year by a colleague and fellow tech geek.  He let me borrow his to test out with my students and while I loved the concept of incorporating manipulatives while using the iPad, they only offered one learning game at the time.  So, I didn't buy it.  Now, however, they have introduced 3 more games, including a drawing game, spelling and counting game, so it has moved onto my wishlist for next year.

2.  Touchtronic Letters and Numbers

Similar to Oslo, Touchtronic Letters and Numbers allows for the use of manipulatives when using apps on the iPad.  With these manipulatives, students can match letters or numbers, spell words, or make equations to solve by placing the manipulatives right on the screen of the iPad.  This is something that I know my students will love!

3.  Rubicoil Coil Binding Machine

This is the most expensive item on my wishlist, but I am convinced that it is worth the investment!  Most of the time, we use binder rings or the comb binding machine to assemble our interactive books or play scripts.  With the binder rings, we find that students sometimes have a hard time turning the pages and with the comb binding, the pages often come apart after use.  I know SPED teachers that have a rubicoil and love the durability of the coil binding.  I love how professional it makes their resources look and can't wait until mine look like that!

4.  Hokki Stool

I have a couple of students who are very wiggly and have a hard time sitting still during table tasks.  I know that they need to move, but because we don't have any flexible seating options that work for them, I really want to get a couple of Hokki stools.  I've asked around and teachers seem to love this brand the best.

5.  IKEA PS LĂ–MSK Swivel armchair

Sadly, I don't have a lot of space in my classroom for a sensory area.  So, I have use space wisely and choose sensory items that are smaller.  This chair is great as it doesn't take up a lot of room, but provides sensory feedback through the spinning motion and with the cover that can be closed, kiddos can close out the world when they need to.

What's on your wishlist?  I'd love to hear about any cool resources you have in your room or on your wishlist!  Leave me a comment below!

And don't forget to like the We Teach SPED Facebook page to find out about more awesome tips and resources!

Until next time,

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Work Basket Wednesday

It's been a long time since I've written a post about independent work tasks, but I wanted to get one in before the end of the school year.  At this time of year, I am starting to realize how many pieces are missing from games and center tasks wonder where they all go.  I swear my classroom is like the Bermuda Triangle!  One minute all the pieces are all there, then next some are missing, never to be found again!  At this time of year, I am tired of looking for the missing pieces and am tempted just to throw out the entire game.  But, we have limited resources and funding, so I stop myself and think about how the game can be salvaged.  And the most obvious solution is making them into independent work tasks!

These will be the easiest work tasks that you ever make.  Literally no prep time, and no cost, since they are already resources you have in your classroom!  All of these tasks are made from old games or center tasks that we had in our classroom that we couldn't use anymore due to missing pieces.  These ones were made from lotto games we had with multiple boards and matching pieces, but some of the pieces went missing, so we were no longer able to use them as lotto games.  Now they are matching tasks!

These ones were made from counting peg sets.

And this one is made from a spelling puzzle flashcard set that has missing cards.

And this last one is one of the few cards we had left that had that matching pieces!

So, before you go crazy with your end of the year purging, pause and think about how you can salvage games and make your resources go further!

And don't forget to check out the other great Workbasket Wednesday ideas from Autism Classroom News!

Until next time,

Friday, 13 May 2016

Summer Countdown Blog Hop

Teaching in a self-contained classroom, I use recess time with my students to teach them how to play games and sports and interact with peers.  This is a natural time of the day for them to engage in these activities and it is the time of the day when we have access to neurotypical peers.  But towards the end of the year, my students want to stay outside longer and with this beautiful weather, who can blame them? So to avoid wasting time dealing with behaviours, we spend more instructional time outside.

1.  Sidewalk Chalk

I love using sidewalk chalk outside with my students!  It's cheap, easy and quick to make learning materials to use when teaching skills outside.  The possibilities are endless, but here are a few ways we use sidewalk chalk during outdoor lessons.  

We love playing "Hop On" games using colours, shapes, letters, numbers and words.  These games are simple and fun!  Simply draw a bunch of your targets (shapes, letters, etc.) and tell the student to "Hop on ..."  This is a great way to target receptive identification.

We also love to play different math games using stones, leaves, or pinecones we find in the yard and chalk.  Staff draw ten frames, number lines or math mats (circles or squares) with the sidewalk chalk and the students work on counting by placing the correct number of counters (stones, etc.) on their ten frame, number line, or math mat. 

I should mention that at my school, we have a fenced in area on the asphalt that we use for these activities so that it is easier to keep the students focused and safe.  I do have a couple of runners and our school yard is huge!!!

2.  Scavenger Hunts

There are several ways to have scavenger hunts with your students.  The most traditional ones involve students having to find a variety of items in nature from a list.  I use these with my students to work on matching picture to object, expressive vocabulary; "I see a ...", "I found a...", etc. and counting; "Find two leaves.", "Find three stones.", etc.  We have also used nature scavenger hunts to work on generalizing colour identification by having the students find a nature item in a specific colour.  For example, when instructed to find something green, they might find a leaf, or grass.   When using nature scavenger hunts with my students, I find it helpful to have them put the items they find in a paper bag, or take a photo of it with an iPod and check it off of their list.  This way, we can review and discuss what they found again in the classroom.

We also have scavenger hunts by hanging colour, shape, letter, number or word flashcards on the fence.  Students have a list of items and go around the yard looking for the flashcards and then scratching them off of their list.  We mix  this activity up for lower level students by giving them flashcards or manipulatives to match to the flashcards on the fence.

3.  Centers

It's fun and easy to re-create your center time outside!  This works especially well if you use a system where students rotate through the centers.  When I run centers outdoors, I usually only do this with literacy centers.  This is simply because I find it much more portable and easy to do.  When we do this, we run it the same way as in the classroom with 3 different centres that incorporate components of the Daily Five.   So, we will usually have a Listen to Reading Center, where myself or an EA reads a book to the students.  A Writing center where students use sidewalk chalk to practice writing letters, words, or sentences.  And a Word Work center, where students use large foam or magnet letters to spell words, match letters or copy words that the person running this center has written out in sidewalk chalk.

When running centres outside, we use the same visuals with as we do inside.  Each student has their center rotation card, and they receive a clothespin after they complete each center.  Once all three centers have been completed, they receive their reinforcer.

4. Gross Motor Skills

Usually, my students work on gross motor skills during recess or Phys. Ed. class. But, when the warmer weather arrives, we like to work on gross motor skills outdoors.  To keep the students organized, we set up a circuit of gross motor skills for them to complete.  We set up the gross motor circuit in the same way we set up centers, with each station in the circuit containing a different activity.  When we run gross motor circuits, however, we have 5 different stations, instead of 3 as in literacy.

We switch up the stations each time, but usually we work on throwing and catching balls, throwing into a target, kicking balls, riding a bike, stretching, and cardio (jumping jacks, etc.).  If it's really hot outside, we will use water balloons or those splash balls to practice throwing and catching.  As with our literacy centers, each student has a schedule of the circuits and when they are finished all five stations, they receive a reinforcer.

5.  Community and Safety Skills

Unfortunately, I don't have a budget for transportation for community outings and staff aren't allowed to transport students due to the liability insurance.  So, we have to rely on the warmer weather to go on community outings.  Fortunately, there is a park, convienence store, ice cream shop and restaurant within walking distance of our school.  These all provide great opportunities to work on community and safety skills.

While walking to the above mentioned destinations, we work on walking while holding hands with an adult, learning to cross the street safely and staying on the sidewalk.  Students also learn how to read and identify different road signs.  At the park, we work on staying within boundaries as indicated by adults, learning how to swing independently, climbing the jungle gym and stairs and how to be safe on the slide.

At the store, restaurant and ice cream shop, students learn how to read menus and order items they want (expressive language), and pay for what they ordered (money skills).  They also learn how to behave in these places; waiting in line, using manners, and speaking quietly.  Visiting these locations is also great for generalizing skills, such as remaining seated when eating, using utensils and napkins and using different washrooms.

A Few Notes...

I think it is important to note that when teaching any of these skills outside, we take into account the safety of our students and make any necessary accommodations we need.  I have two students who are high flight and safety risks and therefore, we plan ahead when teaching outside.  For the one student, that means that he sits in a wagon with a seatbelt when we go on scavenger hunts in the big yard or on community outings.   The other one rides her adaptive bike, which also has a seat and chest belt. 

To ensure all the students' safety and to ensure that they are organized and focused for lessons, we bring the structure and organization that we use in the classroom, outside.   That means, we use mini visual schedules, working for boards, first/then boards, timers and reinforcement.  The students need the same level of structure outside, just as they need inside.  Often times, this is forgotten and that is why the students struggle during outdoor recesses or Phys. Ed. classes.

I wanted to end this post with a freebie for you to use during your outdoor lessons and was hoping to make a scavenger hunt list or outdoor schedule and choice board, but this week was rough and I ran out of time and energy.  So, instead, I have a summer themed interactive book that you can use inside or out with your students during literacy centers.  I hope you enjoy it and I would love to hear how you take learning outside with your students!  Leave me a comment below!   And don't forget to click below to hop to the next blog!

Until next time,

Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Help Your Students Avoid the Sumer Slide

It's hard to believe that the school year is almost over!  Here in Ontario, we have two months left, but I know some of you only have a few weeks.  Summer can be bittersweet for some of our students.  While they get to relax, play, and spend more time with their families, they are also out of their normal routines and may not be engaged in activities as they are when they are in school.  This lack of engagement and routine can result in what's called the "Summer Slide".

Research has shown that elementary students' performance falls by about a month during the summer, but the decline is far worse for students with complex learning needs. Most disturbing, it appears that summer learning loss is cumulative and that, over time, these periods of differential learning rates  contribute substantially to the achievement gap.  As teachers, we may think that there is little we can do to  assist students with complex learning needs in maintaining the skills they have mastered during the school year and avoid regression during the summer months.  If we work with our students' parents, however, we may assist them with putting things into place to avoid regression of skills.

5 Things To Do To Avoid the Summer Slide

1.  Meet with Parents

The first and most important thing to do is meet with your students' parents.  Ideally, this meeting should occur two months before the end of school so that they have enough time to think about the summer months and start planning for their child.  During this meeting find out what their summer plans are and discuss the importance of keeping their child engaged in meaningful activities to avoid regression of skills.  Also be prepared to provide suggestions of what the parents can do to help their child maintain critical skills that their child has learned during the school year.

2.  Research Summer Programs/Camps

Before, or after meeting with your students' parents, do some research on your own about what programs or camps are offered in your area.  This won't require a lot of time, perhaps just looking on some websites of local service providers or making a few phone calls.  If you have consultants or therapists that work for an outside agency serve the students in your classroom, you may just be able to ask them if they know of anything camps/programs that are being offered.  If you live in a small community, like I do, there might not be a lot of options.  But, good places to contact are your local Community Living agency, your local chapter of Autism Ontario, (or equivalent in the States), the Children's Treatment Centre in your area, or your municipality.  

In the city of Chatham, where I live, there are a series of camps offered through the Special Populations program.  To find out they are offering this summer, click here.

3.  Invite Respite Workers to Observe in the Classroom

If the student's parents indicate that they have a respite worker for the summer who will be providing programming and recreational activities, extend them an invitation to come and observe the student in your classroom.  This observation will allow the respite worker to learn about some of the skills that the student is being taught and how they are being taught.  This will assist the respite worker in being consistent over the summer and will hopefully motivate them to maintain these skills and perhaps even teach new ones.

4.  Connect Parents with Respite Workers

If the parents do not currently have a respite worker, encourage them to hire one, at least for the summer.  In Ontario, there is funding provided for this through Community Living and Autism Ontario.  Autism Ontario offers funding for a one-to-one support worker to assist children with accessing camp programs or other programming options.  You can find out more about this funding by clicking here.

When families do not use respite workers, it's often because they feel they don't need the assistance or they don't know how to access this service, or don't know anyone they could hire.  In my school district, Educational Assistants are only hired for 10 months out of the year and are usually looking for summer work.  Most of the EAs and teachers on my supply lists are also looking of summer work, so I am usually able to provide parents with a list of possible workers for their child.

5.  Send Home A Summer Teaching Packet

The last thing we can do as teachers to help our students
avoid the summer slide is to send home teaching materials.  I know it's extra prep for us and our EAs, but sometimes this makes a big difference for our students.  Depending on the student's needs, these materials can include math and literacy activities, a list of websites or apps, play or independent work tasks, or visual supports, such as dressing or grooming schedules.  Every year, when I clean out my classroom, instead of throwing things away or donating them to Goodwill, I will set some aside for my students so I can send them home with them.  This is especially important for low-income families who don't have a lot of toys or books for their children.  

Do you do anything to help your students avoid the summer slide?  I'd love to hear your thoughts!  And don't forget to check out the rest of this month's posts from the We Teach Sped Bloggers!

Thanks for stopping by!

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