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Monday, 28 August 2017

The First Two Weeks

Today is the day I start setting up my classroom for the new school year!  It's a bittersweet day for me as it signals the end of my summer days of relaxation and rest, but the beginning of a new adventure with my littles!  Today I am setting up my classroom furniture and all of the visual supports.  Then I will start prepping for the first two weeks.  I have been teaching in the same classroom for 9 years now and I am not at all stressed about figuring out schedules or delivering curriculum because I know that's not what the first two weeks are about.

I know what you are thinking; no schedules, no curriculum, are you crazy?!?  I may be a little bit crazy, but trust me I know what I am doing!  And I can help you to alleviate some stress by not over planning your first two weeks and still rock them!  The key to success is to focus on 4 key areas:  teaching rules and procedures, pairing with reinforcement, playing the contingency game, and conducting assessments.

Teaching Rules & Routines

Many students with autism rely on rules and routines to keep their environment predictable and, therefore, feel safer. Educators must understand the importance of rules and routines for individuals with autism and apply them in various settings and situations. Application of rules and routines in school helps students with autism engage more successfully in activities and prevents problem behavior. Routines help create an efficient environment – they save time. When students know routines, they can perform daily activities more quickly.

In my classroom, we use the first two weeks to really focus on teaching the students how to use the visual supports in the room to transition from one activity to the next, perform tasks independently and earn reinforcers.  We also teach them the expectations for each activity of our day through practice and repetition.  By taking extra time to do this at the beginning of the year, we avoid dealing with inappropriate behaviours or prompt dependency through the rest of the school year.

Pairing with Reinforcement

Pairing yourself and your EAs/Paras with reinforcement is the best way to start the school year with your students.  Pairing is a common term that ABA professionals often use to describe the process of building or maintaining rapport with a student. Teaching often begins with intentional and thorough pairing, where it's ALL about what the student loves or enjoys and making that available to them on a non-contingent basis (jargon defined: for FREE). Basically, teaching students with Autism should start off with low demand, and high reward.


The school year should begin with intentional pairing. Even if you already know the child, you shouldn’t immediately jump into presenting demands. Pairing is how teachers establish instructional control, build trust, connect themselves to reinforcement (eventually becoming a reinforcer), and get to know the child’s interests. Skipping the pairing process can cause problem behaviors to increase, kill instructional control, and impair the teacher-student relationship.  The video below is a good demonstration of an educator pairing herself with reinforcement.



The Contingency Game

Contingency is the relationship between two events, one being "contingent" or a consequence of the other event. In order to increase a desired behavior, the student needs to know that receiving reinforcement is directly related to the behavior, or "contingent" on the behavior. This relationship of contingency, is incredibly important to the success of a special education program.

The success of establishing contingency requires quick reinforcement, clear communication and consistency. Students who don't receive immediate reinforcement, or are not clear about the relationship of contingency, will not be as successful as those students who clearly understand the relationship or contingency.

Teaching students to understand this relationship is referred to as "playing the contingency game".  While pairing themselves with reinforcement, the educational team can start to intersperse some demands, so that the reinforcement becomes contingent upon responding to the demand.  This can be done throughout the day, including during play times, direct instruction, mealtimes, pays. ed. and recess.




Conduct Assessments

Before, special education teachers can start to deliver curriculum, they must know what skills their students need to be taught and at what level they need to be taught.  The best way to identify these is to conduct an assessment based on the curriculum you use in your classroom.  We use the first two weeks in the classroom to complete the Hawaii Early Learning Profile assessment for each of our students.  To learn more about how to complete this assessment click here.  But, basically, we complete the assessments through parent interview, observation and direct assessment.  Since this is a lengthy assessment, it can take up to two weeks to complete it with new students.  With returning students, it usually takes up to a week, as we already have a good understanding of their needs.  Regardless of what curriculum you use, the first two weeks should be dedicated to completing assessments so that you have a basis on which to develop IEP goals.
  



Additional Tips

So, when I said that I didn't start the school year with a schedule, that was a bit of a fib.  I have a schedule, but it includes a lot of play time so we can work on pairing with reinforcement and establishing instructional control through the use of the contingency game.  We work on a lot of maintenance tasks the first few days, so we have lots of opportunities for low demand/high reward situations.  I plan fun arts and crafts activities, sensory/science experiments and gross motor fun to get the kids engaged and having fun.

So, there you have it!  My first two weeks in a nutshell!  I'd love to hear from you about what you do during your first two weeks of school.  Leave me a comment below!  Thanks for stopping by!

Until next time,




   

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