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Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Alternative Curricula Part Two: ABLLS-R

Welcome back to the second part of our series on alternative curricula!  Today I am going to be discussing the ABLLS-R.   

The ABLLS-R is an abbreviation for the Assessment of Basic Language and Learning Skills - Revised.  The original ABLLS was developed by James W. Partington, Ph.D., BCBA-D and Mark L. Sundberg, Ph.D, BCBA-D and is based on B.F.Skinner's analysis of verbal behaviour and the theoretical work of several others since Skinner's book.  Prior to creating the ABLLS, Sundberg and Partington wrote "Teaching Language to Children with Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities" which described how to create an intervention program based on Verbal Behaviour Analysis.  This book and the subsequent ABLLS books are written for those who already have knowledge and training in Applied Behaviour Analysis and various types of augmentative communication systems.  The ABLLS was updated (Revised) in 2006 by Dr. Partington. The revised version incorporates many new task items and provides a more specific sequence in the developmental order of items within the various skill areas.

What is the ABLLS-R?

The revised assessment of basic language and learning skills (ABLLS-R) is an assessment tool, curriculum guide, and skills-tracking system used to help guide the instruction of language and critical learning skills for children with autism or other developmental disabilities. It is the most commonly used curriculum in behavioural intervention programs for children with autism and therefore, understanding technical aspects of behavior analysis and Skinner's Verbal Behavior are important to a robust understanding of the ABLLS-R.

The ABLLS-R provides a review of 544 skills from 25 skill areas including language, social interaction, self-help, academic and motor skills that most typically developing children acquire prior to entering and during kindergarten.  It provides both parents and professionals with criterion-referenced information regarding a child’s current skills, and provides a curriculum that can serve as a basis for the selection of educational objectives.  It is not a diagnostic device; it does not compare the child to norms or the performance of other children.

The ABLLS-R comprises two documents. The ABLLS-R Protocol is used to score the child’s performance on the task items and provides 15 appendices that allow for the tracking of a variety of specific skills that are included in the assessment. The ABLLS-R Guide provides information about the features of the ABLLS-R, how to correctly score items, and how to develop Individualized Education Program (IEP) goals and objectives that clearly define and target the learning needs of a student.

The ABLLS-R assesses the strengths and weaknesses of an individual in each of the 25 skill sets. Each skill set is broken down into multiple skills, ordered by typical development or complexity. So, a skill of F1 (Requests by indicating) is a simpler skill than F12 (Requesting Help).  Usually, lower level skills are needed before proceeding to teach higher skills. The skills measured in the ABLLS-R range from essential abilities like orienting on people and objects to complex skills like talking about pleasant things that are not immediately present (i.e., "How was your day?").  The largest subcategory of skills examined are language with the categories defined by function of language and not by traditional abstract categorization.  

The ABLLS-R assessment is conducted via observation of the child's behavior in each skill area.  Some skills are difficult or time-consuming to test, so instructors frequently accept anecdotal evidence from parents and other caregivers as to a child's ability at a given skill-level.  The end result of the ABLLS-R assessment, which can take up to two weeks to complete, should be a set of recommendations for teaching objectives that are unique to that child.

When completing the assessment, you rate how well the student can accomplish the task with the rubric. If they can’t do it at all you leave it blank. The rubric will indicate how many boxes to fill in if they can somewhat do the task.  Once you go through all of the tasks your progress tracking sheet will look something like this:

The ABLLS-R is only as useful as the accuracy of the information that went into completing it and the skill of the administrator in both completing the ABLLS-R and sorting through the potential recommendations for future goals.  While it is commonly said that anyone can complete an ABLLS-R, it has been my experience that without an understanding of the behavioral principles underlying it, the resulting profile is less accurate and informative.  I recommend that the ABLLS-R be completed by someone who is likely to be objective about a child and their abilities who also has significant experience with children with language delays and other behavioral deficits commonly associated with autism spectrum disorders. 

How can you track progress with the ABLLS?

Now the cool part: the color you fill out the form with is associated with a date. Every few months or twice a year you can update this to show progress. I usually do this at every reporting period, unless a student is making progress at a faster rate.  The next time you fill it out – use a new color. This has a great visual cue of how much progress your student has made. 

To sum up, the ABLLS-R has many advantages and disadvantages to using it...


  • Addresses basic language, academic, self-help, classroom, and gross and fine motor skill sets.
  • Provides quick review for parents and educators to identify skill level of student
  • Easy for parents and teachers to communicate about the student’s educational programming
  • Relatively inexpensive.


  • Skill lists are not exhaustive (544 skills).
  • Although, it can be used for children with a variety of developmental disabilities, it is most appropriate for children with autism.
  • It does not provide an outline of teaching strategies or task analyses for skills.  It is simply a list of skills.
  • Skills are mostly in order of childhood development, but is not norm-referenced.
  • Can only be effectively used by someone with knowledge and training in Autism and Applied Behaviour Analysis.

In my opinion, the disadvantages outweigh the advantages and I feel that there are better curricula on the market that meet the wide range of needs that our students present.  Chris and I will be discussing these in the coming weeks and hope that you will join us every Wednesday for these discussions.  Next week I will be discussing the VB-MAPP and Chris will be discussing Unique Learning Systems.  I hope that you will join us!

In the meantime, have you used or are you currently using the ABLLS-R in your classroom?  What are your thoughts on it?  I'd love to hear from you!  Leave me a comment below and I will respond!  Thanks for stopping by and don't forget to hop one to Chris' blog to see her thoughts on STAR.

Until then,

Saturday, 25 July 2015

Summer SPED Blog Hop PART 5

Hey Everyone!  I hope you have been enjoying this series!  Today is the final post in the series and it's all about the first week of school!  Personally, I have a love/hate relationship with the first week of school.  I get excited to go back and start off a brand new year with new supplies and sometimes new students, but I also hate to see the end of summer!  I'm sure some of you can relate!  To make sure you are ready for the big day, I have some tips to share with you!

Most years, I have the same students returning to my classroom in September.  We usually start any transitions at that time, with the EAs from their home schools start with us for training.  We schedule students transitions to occur at the end of October, early November, so that we can work out any kinks that may occur one the summer.  There is a serious lack of summer programs for students with special needs in my community and as such, my students usually spend their summers at home with their parents, not doing much.  So every September, I am faced with dealing with the summer slide.

It's called the "summer slide," and it describes what happens when young minds sit idle for two months.  As parents approach the summer break, many are thinking about the family vacation, trips to the pool, how to keep children engaged in activities at home, the abrupt changes to everyone's schedule—and how to juggle it all. What they might not be focusing on is how much educational ground their children could lose during the two-month break from school.  According to the authors of a report from the National Summer Learning Association: "A conservative estimate of lost instructional time is approximately two months or roughly 22 percent of the school year.... It's common for teachers to spend at least a month re-teaching material that students have forgotten over the summer. That month of re-teaching eliminates a month that could have been spent on teaching new information and skills."

So, I spend the first two weeks of every school year, assessing my students.  I want to see how many skills they retained over the summer, if they have lost skills, or if they have gained any new skills.  We do this so that we know where we need to start teaching or re-teaching of  any previously mastered skills.  We also use this time to work on pairing ourselves with reinforcement.  Our students haven't seen us for two months, so it is important that we re-establish a positive relationship with them from the first day of school.  The first week is also spent teaching or re-teaching classroom routines and using their communication systems.

To be ready for the first week of school, I make sure I have everything prepared.  This includes all visuals that the students will need throughout the day, their communication devices, teaching materials and reinforcers.  I either meet with my parents or speak to them on the phone to get updates about their progress over the summer, their activities and any new likes or interests they have developed.  This is important information to have for the first week of school.  I spoke about this more in my post on forms which you can read here.

On the first day of school, when the kids arrive, I assign one person to empty backpacks and put all of the students' supplies away.  My students usually come with items needed for toileting along with their school supplies, so there is usually a lot of stuff that needs to be put away.  Assigning one person to do this, allows the other two to start teaching the students.

I also always ensure that I have my home/school communication notes ready to send home info about my students' first day.  Parents are usually anxious when their students start a new school year and want to hear how it went.  I also started using Class Messenger last year and will email or text parents a photo of their child on the first day with a little note.  I have found that parents really appreciate this and it helps to alleviate their anxiety, especially if you send it in the middle of the day.

How do you prepare for the first week of school?  What activities do you plan for the week?  I'd love to hear from you!  Leave me a comment below and don't forget to hop over to Superheroes in SPED's blog to see what she does for the first week! 

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

The Importance of Using an Evidence-Based Curriculum in the Special Education Classroom

I am so excited to collaborate with one of my favourite special education bloggers to bring a series on finding the right curriculum for your special education classroom! I read have Chris' blog for over a year now and was beyond thrilled when she invited me to join her Facebook group for special education bloggers when I first started this blog! I mean seriously, Christine Reeve asked me to join her group?! Shut up!  She was somewhat of a celebrity to me then and now she has become a great mentor. Her willingness to help out fellow SPED teachers with their teaching practice, their blogs and TPT stores is truly selfless and so appreciated by myself and several others. She is so supportive and encouraging, not to mention knowledgeable! I honestly can't say enough about her! Suffice to say, that when I approached her about teaming up to write a series of posts on alternative curriculums, I was nervous! But, she immediately agreed and was so encouraging! So, without further ado, I present to you our series on finding and using a developmentally appropriate, evidence-based alternative curriculum for students with special needs.

The Ontario curriculum is rigourous and jammed full of learning expectations.  Every year, teachers and students struggle to get through it all.  Though most of the Ontario Curriculum expectations are abstract and schematic, collectively they constitute a one-size fits-all approach that, in practice, has severely limited the learning outcomes of students with special needs.  For students with mild learning disabilities, autism, down's syndrome, multiple  disabilities, etc., how does the Ontario curriculum suit them?

To ensure that all students with special needs can engage in meaningful learning experiences, the Ministry of Ontario has outlined three different levels of accessing the curriculum; Accommodations, Modifications and Alternative Skills Areas.

Accommodations are the special teaching and assessment strategies, supports and/or individualized equipment (including technology) that are required to enable a student to learn and demonstrate learning. Accommodations do not alter the provincial learning expectations for the grade level.
For subjects that are accommodated only, there should be a list of Instructional Accommodations (different ways of teaching or presenting materials) Environmental Accommodations (e.g. seating, cuing, hallway routines) and Assessment Accommodations (including use of technology). These accommodations may be common to all subjects, or may vary from subject to subject, in which case the subjects should be listed separately.
Modifications refer to the changes made to the age-appropriate grade level expectations for a subject or course in order to meet the needs of the student.
Modified (MOD) is the term used on the IEP form to identify subjects or courses from the Ontario curriculum in which the student requires modified expectations – expectations that differ in some way from the regular grade expectations.
Modifications may involve either raising or lowering grade level expectations. For the core subjects, such as Math and Language, the expectations may be taken from a different grade level (higher or lower). For content subjects, such as Social Studies or History, the modifications may include significant changes to the number and/or complexity of learning expectations in the regular grade level curriculum.
For each subject that is modified, even partially, a Program page of the IEP gets filled out with Current Level of Achievement, an annual program goal, and Learning Expectations for each reporting period (report card term).

At the secondary level, a student might be working in a subject on almost all the course curriculum expectations, but the complexity or number of expectations might be modified in a few areas. In this case the IEP would indicate “the student will do all the curriculum expectations except …”. The school principal would decide how much modification could be allowed in order for the student to get credit for the course.
Alternative skill areas (ALT) are based on expectations developed to help students acquire knowledge and skills that are not represented in the Ontario curriculum. Alternative skill areas are listed on the Program page of the IEP, and have the current level of achievement, an annual program goal, learning expectations, teaching strategies and assessment methods. Alternative programs are provided in both the elementary and the secondary school panels.
Examples of alternative programs include: speech remediation, social skills, orientation/mobility training, and personal care programs. For the vast majority of students, these programs would be given in addition to modified or regular grade-level expectations from the Ontario curriculum. They must be directly taught by a designated person.
Alternative courses, at the secondary school level, are non-credit courses. The course expectations in an alternative course are individualized for the student and generally focus on preparing the student for daily living. School boards must use the “K” course codes and titles found in the ministry’s Common Course Code listings (click here to access the page) to identify alternative courses. Examples of alternative courses include Transit Training and Community Exploration (KCC), Culinary Skills (KHI), and Money Management and Personal Banking (KBB).

So where do students with severe disabilities fit in?  Some of these students in primary and junior grades, who are working on basic academic skills in reading, spelling and math, may be working toward modified curriculum expectations, from a lower grade level, on some parts of their subjects. Only those parts of the subject would be evaluated according to modified expectations, and therefore have the IEP box checked off on the provincial report card.  Many of those students, however,  would have most of their learning expectations based an alternative curriculum.  Their IEPs would focus on skills that are not represented in the Ontario curriculum.  But, if they aren't in the Ontario curriculum, what do you teach them?

Luckily for us, there are many commercially available curriculums on the market for students with special needs.  Throughout this series, Chris and I will be discussing 5 of them that we have used throughout our careers.  Each week, we will feature a different curriculum, discuss how it is used, and the pros and cons of each.  To start off the series, today we will be discussing the importance of using an evidence-based alternative curriculum.

Some of you may be wondering why you should use a curriculum written by someone else.  You're probably thinking, "I'm a teacher, I studied child development, I know what children need to learn, I can make my own curriculum".  If you choose to do that, I wish you all the success.  Maybe one day you could get it published and then other SPED teachers like myself could buy it and use it in my classroom.  But, chances are that this won't happen.

All of the commercially available alternative curriculums that I have used are written by teams of child development specialists, Board Certified Behaviour Analysts, Speech-Langauge Pathologists, and Child Psychologists that hold Master's degrees and Ph.D.s.  The curriculums are based on research and are revised over the years after extensive testing and use.  They have been used in research studies and headstart projects throughout the world.  Can you say the same about your curriculum?  Most likely, not.  So, I encourage to take a look at the commercially available curriculums available and find one that will meet the needs of your students.

Why do I feel so strongly about this?  In my current and previous positions, I have consulted to a number of different classrooms, both inclusive and congregated.  I have consulted on students with a variety of needs, at various levels of functioning.  And I have seen the differences in student achievement between using an evidence-based, developmentally appropriate curriculum, and ones where the teacher or EA had made up the curriculum.  And this is what I have found...

Restricting students to curricula beyond or below their cognitive capacities substantially lowers their achievement.

When teachers or EAs try to make up their own curriculum, it is ultimately too difficult or too easy for the student and/or not functional and therefore, the student doesn't make meaningful gains in their learning.  For some students, they are stuck in a developmental level far lower than their chronological age, simply because they are not being taught new skills.  And in some cases, the students even regress because they are not challenged enough.

On the flip side, I have seen students being taught skills that are way above their cognitive level.  In these situations the students often get frustrated and this frustration leads to an increase in off-task, inappropriate, self-stimulatory or aggressive behaviours.  These students also do not make any progress and sometimes regress in their abilities.

I consulted to two high schools this year and observed both of these situations.  In the one school, a student I had worked with in elementary was now in grade 12 at the high school.  I was shocked when I started working with him at the lack of progress he had made in his 4 years at the high school.  His communication skills and reading level had both dropped significantly because he was not being taught new skills.  

In the other high school, I worked with two girls with Down's Syndrome who were in grade 10.  Both of the functioned around the same reading level, so they were paired for literacy instruction.  The EA assigned to work with them during that period designed the curriculum and chose to do a novel study with them that was way above their abilities.  The result was a drop by 3 levels in their reading scores in one year.

Using an evidence-based assessment and curriculum assists you in developing educational programs that are developmentally appropriate and functional for the students you teach.  They allow you to assess the student's current level of functioning and then design and educational program that is appropriate for them, challenges them and teaches them new skills.  

Most of the curricula we will be discussing arrange skills in a developmental sequence that is norm-referenced.  Meaning, that they are sequenced according to neuro-typical child development.  This allows you to easily understand your student's level of cognitive functioning.  When you are able to say to EAs and parents, "She functions around 18 months for most skills.", this helps you and them understand the types of skills the student should be taught.  Qualifying cognitive functioning in terms of months or years, is more easily understood by others, rather than percentile scores.

Using a developmentally sequenced curriculum also allows you to easily identify gaps in learning and any pre-requisite skills necessary for target goals.  In a grade two classroom that I consulted to this year, I worked with a little boy who was struggling with subtilizing and addition.  The teacher and EA in the room were trying various strategies with him, but he wasn't making any progress.  He had many other issues, but I will just use this example.  It wasn't until I asked them if he could identify numbers, that they realized they didn't know.  They just assumed he did based on his report card.  So, we tested him on number identification and he could not name or identify any numbers past 5.  He also could not count objects past 4.  He was missing these crucial pre-requisite skills needed for the skill they were trying to teach him.

Developmentally sequenced curricula also guide you what to teach next.  This is often a struggle for teachers, as the Ontario curriculum is sequenced according to academic years, but not in a developmental sequence within the subject areas.  Most of the curriculums we will be discussing lay out for you the sequence of teaching, making your job a lot easier!

They also include assessment and tracking tools that allow you easily monitor student progress in the form of charts.  I love the charts that come with most of these curricula because they are so easy to refer to at reporting times, team and parent meetings.  When you present these charts to parents during meetings, they can easily see the progress that their child is making.

Well, this turned into quite a lengthy post!  I hope that you found this helpful and that you will join us over the next few weeks as we delve deeper into the curricula we love (and hate) to use!  And don't forget to hop over to Chris' blog to read her thoughts on the subject.  I have also posted some Ministry of Ontario resources for those of you in Ontario, just in case you needed some summer reading!

I am also curious at what curricula you use in your classrooms.  Does your board regulate which one you have to use?  Do you have a favourite that you use?  Or, do you make up your own?  I love to hear from you and discuss it with you!  Leave me a comment below!

Ministry References and Resources

The Individual Education Plan (IEP), A Resource Guide, 2004, is a guide intended to help educators working with students with special needs to develop, implement, and monitor high-quality IEPs. Click here to access the resource guide.
Samples of Individual Education Plan (IEP) have been developed by the Council of Ontario Directors of Education and posted on the Ministry of Education website to support the development and implementation of effective IEPs in Ontario. Click here to access the samples.
The document, Individual Education Plans: Standards for Development, Program Planning, and Implementation, 2000, describes province-wide standards that must be followed in the elaboration of student IEPs. Click here to access the standards.
The document, Special Education, A Guide for Educators, 2001, includes a section devoted to the creation and upkeep of a student's IEP. Click here to access Part E: The Individual Education Plan (IEP) of the document.

Monday, 20 July 2015

Special Education BTS Blog Hop!

It's time for the annual Special Education Back to School Blog Hop!  Myself and 23 other amazing Special Education teachers have teamed up to bring an e-book filled with great tips and a ton of freebies to help you start the school year off right!  And to help you out even more, we are all offering giveaways on our blogs!  You will have the chance to win some awesome prizes to help you stock your classroom with school supplies and teaching materials! 

You can download the free e-book by clicking on the picture.  On each page of the book, are links to freebies that you can download from our TPT stores!  You won't want to miss those!

And to help you get ready for the big day, I am giving away a $25 gift card to Amazon to one lucky reader!  To win, enter through the rafflecopter below!  You have until July 26 to enter!  The winner will be announced on my blog on July 27th!  

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Good luck and don't forget to visit the other 23 blogs for a chance to win some more great prizes!

Thanks for stopping by! 

Sunday, 19 July 2015

Summer SPED Blog Hop Week 4!

Welcome back everyone!  Today is the second last post in our Summer SPED Series!  I hope you have enjoyed everyone's posts and maybe even learned something along the way!  Today's post is all about working with Educational Assistants, as we call them in Canada, or Aides/Paraprofessionals as they are referred to in the States.

Teachers have incredibly difficult jobs.  There are a million things to organize within a classroom, teaching materials, lesson plans, money for milk or lunch, field trips!  The list goes on and on, and then you have the 20-30 kids you have to manage on a daily basis!  Special Education teachers have the added responsibility of managing the EAs or aides that they work with.  As SPED teachers, we have to wear many different hats, teacher, therapist, counsellor, nurse, consultant and supervisor.  Managing all of these different roles can be tricky at times, even for a seasoned SPED teacher.  The task that seems most daunting to most SPED teachers is working with their EAs, especially for new teachers.  

Before I was a teacher, I was a Senior Therapist and Supervisor for privately and publicly funded ABA/IBI programs.  Training and managing a team of therapists was a major part of my job and I was assigned to two different regions to help improve the quality of service.  Through that experience, I learned what is is like to deal with difficult people.  I also received a lot of training on leading and managing teams.  As SPED teachers, we don't receive any of that training, but we are expected to complete these duties on a daily basis.

In my current role, training and teaching EAs is still a major part of my job.  As my classroom is based on a transitional model, I have EAs from both local school boards come into my classroom for training for months at a time.  I also consult to other schools to assist them with their programs, provide training and professional development.  One of the schools, I was in this year had 36 students with varying disabilities, two teachers and 16 EAs.  

The teachers are both relatively new to the classroom (in their first five years), while some of the EAs have been there for 15-20 years.  When you have been in a classroom for that long, it's not unusual that you take ownership over it and have ideas and opinions about how things should be run, or get stuck in routines and habits that have been developed over the years, whether they are bad or good.

So, how do you manage this many EAs all with different levels of education and a variety of work experiences?  My previous experiences as a supervisor and my experience during the last year consulting in this classroom have solidified what are essential components to training and managing a high performing team to me.  A high performing team has:

  • a clear sense of purpose
  • willingness to accept responsibility
  • good relationships and clear communication
  • ability to deal with conflict effectively
  • flexibility, adaptability
  • recognition and appreciation is expressed
  • strong morale

So, how do you develop a positive working environment and high performing team?

1.  Be Highly Organized.  I can't stress this enough.  If you are not organized in how your instructional day will run for your students, with a thoroughly detailed schedule, your classroom can quickly fall into chaos.  It is essential that you and your EAs know what the day looks like, their daily activities, what the students are being taught and when, where the teaching materials are and how to teach them.  Each staff member also needs to have their own detailed daily schedule, so they know who they are working with and when.  

2.  Clarify Roles and Expectations.  I have often seen staff struggle because they don't exactly know what their role is and what is expected of them.  Everyone runs their classroom differently and has different expectations for their EAs.  If you want to have a positive working relationship with your EAs, then you need to clearly outline for them your expectations of them.  This includes their responsibilities in the classroom on a daily basis in relation to student programming and care, and other responsibilities such as prep work, communicating with parents, therapists and other community partners, and cleaning toys,etc.  Having this in writing is always a good idea.

3.  Orientation and Training.  As SPED teachers, we most likely have more education, training and experience than our EAs in regards to teaching practices.  Therefore, it is part of our responsibilities to ensure that when new staff come into our classroom, we provide them with an orientation to the classroom and the school.  Staff will need some initial training on teaching practices we use, communication systems that the students use, technology and on disabilities in general.  In order to have a high performing team, all members of the team must have access to ongoing training and professional development.  This is something that I do with my team on an ongoing basis through discussion, videos, modelling and on the job coaching.

4.  Recognizing and Valuing Staff Differences; Utilize Staff Strengths and Resources.  All the staff in your classroom will have different ways of doing things, different strengths and access to different resources.  Recognizing these differences and capitalizing on them can make your classroom run more smoothly.  For example, if one of your EAs are artistically inclined and love art, let them run art class.  If you have a male on your team and you know that one of your students responds better to males, then assign them to work with that student.  Be cautious though as assigning an EA to one specific role, such as always dealing with a student's behaviours.  This can lead to staff burnout and does not allow each EA to develop and learn new skills.

5.  Share Leadership.  In my classroom, we share all responsibilities.  Well, most of the responsibilities!  Some, only I can do such as writing IEPs and report cards, setting up and leading meetings and ordering supplies and managing the budget.  But, for the day to day activities in the classroom, we all share responsibility for that.  We take turns leading the morning meeting, literacy and math lessons, music and phys. ed. class.  I set it up this way, so that if I am away for a day and get pulled into a meeting, I know my EAs can run the class without me and that the students are engaged in meaningful learning activities.  When we need to make important decisions about how the classroom is running, I consult my EAs, we discuss the changes and come to an agreement, for the most part!  This includes, the physical set-up of the classroom, the daily schedule and purchasing large or expensive items.  All the decision in regards to how skills are taught are made by me, but if a teaching technique isn't working, and the EAs have suggestions, then I incorporate them into the teaching method.

6.  Deal Effectively with Conflict as it Arises.  This is one of the most important aspects to developing a positive working environment.  If you are unhappy about the way an EA is conducting themselves in your classroom, you need to address it with them as soon as possible.  Conversely, if you see that a couple of your EAs are not getting along, you need to address it with them and act as a mediator to identify the source of the conflict and try to come to a resolution.  Avoiding conflict or acting in a passive-aggressive manner is one of the biggest pitfalls in developing a positive working environment and strong, cohesive team. Dealing with conflict is one of the most unpleasant aspects of any job, but avoiding it is very damaging to the team.  I have a couple of  handouts on how to deal with conflict that you can download here.

7.  Engage in problem-solving and decision-making.  We are fortunate in my classroom to have time set aside once a month when we meet as team to review student data and discuss any problems or challenges that we are facing.  I understand that not everyone classroom has this opportunity, but it something that you should strive to set up on a regular basis.  When you don't engage in problem-solving and decision-making with your team, problems never get resolved and sometimes can get worse.  When problem-solving, it is important to be flexible and be able to adapt to new or different ways of doing things.  When leading a team, it is important that you demonstrate these abilities if you want your team to do the same.

8.  Acknowledge and Celebrate Successes.  We celebrate the small steps are students make towards a goal every day, but we often tend to overlook those with our colleagues.  It is important to acknowledge your EAs hard work, their effort in working to improve their teaching skills or acquire a new skill, and their successes when they achieve those goals.  We all have goals that we work towards in our teaching practice and professional development and this is the same for the EAs that we work with, for the most part.  So make sure that you praise them for their efforts and successes, with publicly or privately.  This positive reinforcement will validate their efforts and encourage them to continue to improve.  When we overlook this or take it for granted, staff can become resentful and develop an attitude of "why bother?".  To avoid this we must reinforce their efforts, just as would our students.   

9.  Open communication, Trust, Respect.  This takes times to develop, but is essential to a positive working environment and strong team.  I have been in a classroom where the teacher constantly talks about her colleagues behind their backs and have witnessed the destruction this caused to the team.  Addressing concerns, providing constructive feedback and allowing opportunities for discussion allows the team to resolve problems and grow together.  Knowing that your colleagues trust and respect you and vice versa, allows for more open communication and builds a stronger team.  Your EAs need to know that you will support them in tough times, either when dealing with behaviours, following through with commitments and responsibilities or dealing with difficult parents.

10.  Most Importantly, Have Fun!  I know that building a strong team is hard work, but that doesn't mean it can't be fun!  In my classroom, we joke around, a lot!  When you deal with difficult students as we do, you have to have a sense of humour and be able to laugh about what you go through in a day.  It's also important to remember that everyone has a life outside of school and they like to talk about it.  I have found that talking about your personal life with your colleagues allows you to develop more meaningful relationships with them.  Planning activities together outside of work also allows you to have fun together, while getting to know each other better.  Just don't do anything crazy that you will regret!

I hope you have found these tips helpful.  I have a completely editable packet of guidelines and a training guide that you can use with your EAs/Aides/Paraprofessionals in my TPT store that you can grab for free! And don't forget to hop over to The Eager Teacher's blog to see her tips!

Thanks for stopping by!

Summer SPED Blog Hop Weeks 3 & 4!

Hey Everyone!  I was so sad that I missed last week's post, but I was stuck at the airport in Orlando after we missed our flight home :(.  I tried to write it at the airport and finish my freebie, but I just couldn't concentrate enough to get it done!  But, I did finish it this week, so I am posting about both topics today!  Week three's post was all about forms!

Every August, I mail out a back to school packet to all of the parents in my class.  The packet includes a welcome back letter with a list of needed supplies and any updates to staffing in the classroom.  It also includes about a gazillion consent forms!  Because we are a treatment classroom, under Ministry of Education regulations in Ontario, we must partner with a community organization that provides the clinical supervision for the program.  The agency we partner with is funded under the Ministry of Child and Youth Services and has it's own policies to follow.  As such, parents have to sign duplicate forms for each agency.  It is a lot of paperwork!  I am not going to share those forms with you today, as each school board and community agency has their own versions of these.  

What I am going to share with you are the other forms that I use to organize my year.  Included in the packet that I send home with parents is an Emergency Contact Form, which I ensure I have back in my hands before students start school.  This sheet contains all pertinent contact info for parents/guardians in case I need to get a hold of them.  It's pretty straight forward, but the one thing that I ensure I have encapsulated on this form is separate info for both parents.  I have many students whose parents are not together, but are involved in their child's education, so I make sure that I have both sets of information.

The other critical form that I send home is the Student Profile.  On this form, parents provide me with information on their child's current abilities in regards to communication and self-help skills, as well as providing me with a picture of their child's current behaviours, likes and interests.  Like the emergency contact form, I ensure that I have this form completed and sent back to me before the students start.  I consider this a critical form to have as children are constantly growing and changing.  Having this information allows me to effectively plan my students' instructional days and formulate their IEPs from day one.  This information allows for a successful start to the school year.

I have all of these forms and more in my SPED Teacher's Binder packet in my TPT store.  Click here to get your free copy!  What forms do you use in your classroom?  I'd love to hear from you?

And don't forget to click here to read about my tips for working with educational assistants (or paraprofessionals/ aides as my American friends call them) and to hop over to the next blog!

Until next time,

Saturday, 18 July 2015

Summer Series Blog Link-Up Week 3: Scheduling

A while back, I posted about how I make my schedules in my classroom as part of the SPED Summer Blog Hop.  After reading everyone's posts on how they make their schedules, I went back and revised mine.  This is what I love about blogging and participating in blog hops!  You get to read about different ideas and then incorporate them into your own teaching practice!  I love this online collaboration and idea sharing!  So, today I thought I would write about my revised schedule and go into more detail about the process of making class and staff schedules and link up to Delightfully Dedicated's Summer Series on scheduling.

After reading everyone's posts in the SPED Summer Blog Hop, I decided to go back and make my schedule in Google Forms. I choose this method so that when I need to make changes to schedule, I can access it from any computer, at home and school.  The first thing I did was to put in the activities in the day that are non-negotiables, such as lunch, recess, etc.

Then, I filled in the rest of the activities for the day and colour coded it.  I assigned each student a colour for the times of the day that are not group based learning activities to make it easier to read.  For Literacy, Math and Fine Motor Centers, I used the colour of the group that the student is in.  This way staff know exactly which group that student is in during that time period.

For the staff schedule, I assigned each staff member to rotate through students and tasks each day.  We have a separate schedule for each day of the day to ensure that all of us are doing each of the required tasks throughout the week.  I do this for three reasons:  1) to ensure generalization across people, 2) to ensure that the EAs can run the program when I am away and 3) to avoid staff burnout.  If someone is assigned to the same student all day, every day, there is a higher chance of staff burnout, especially if it is a student with challenging behaviours.  Having my EAs lead lessons also promotes a team approach to the classroom and creates a positive working environment.  It also lets us do inter-rater reliability tests on the data collection periodically to ensure we are all scoring the data in the same manner.  I also colour-coded the staff schedule, and assigned each of us a different colour, which just makes it easier to read.

You will also notice that during group-based teaching times, I have one person leading the lesson, while another one prompts and reinforces and the takes data.  I have found that if I don't assign the EAs specific jobs to do during those times, they either start talking during the lesson or check their email, Facebook, etc.  I have found that scheduling them specific tasks is the most efficient use of their time.

I hope you found this helpful and I would love to hear who you schedule your day for your students and staff!  Leave me a comment below!

And don't forget to stop by tomorrow for the Special Education Back to School Blog Hop!

Until then,

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

SPED Dollar Deals!!!

While I am on vacation in Orlando this week, I am not posting on the blog, but I did want to share this with you!  I've teamed up with some other awesome SPED teachers to bring you SPED Dollar Deals! For today only, you can find some amazing products for only $1!!!

Hurry! There are 3 products in my shop for only $1, plus the rest of my store is 20% off! #spedsale #speddollardeals #adventuresintheatc

Sunday, 5 July 2015

Special Education Summer Blog Hop Week 2!

I am so excited to be participating the Special Education Summer Blog Hop hosted by Kyle from kinderspedadventures.blogspot.com!  You will want to tune in each week for the five week series of informative posts from some awesome special education teachers!   This week is all about classroom set-up!

A while back I posted about the physical set-up of my classroom in my series on Structured Teaching.  You can find that post here.  I don't want to duplicate that post, so today I am going to talk about the importance of using Universal Supports when planning the set-up of your SPED classroom.

Universal Supports are strategies designed for students with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). These are system-wide supports to help educators create an inclusive environment, promote independence, prevent problem behaviours, increase learning opportunities, and assist students in accessing the curriculum.

“Universal” refers to strategies being applicable to the vast majority of students with ASD. They have been proven to be highly effective practices in teaching and supporting students with ASD in integrated and special education environments. Although beneficial for all, the strategies and intensity required are individualized to each student. Overall, they provide students with a solid foundation to learn and access the curriculum (Michigan START project, 2006).

This comprehensive approach was created by the Statewide Autism Resources and Training (START) at Grand Valley State University in Michigan and is based on school-wide positive behaviour support (Michigan START Project, 2006).

Now, even though Universal Supports were designed specifically for students with Autism, they can be applied to many students with special needs.  In my school board we have a saying, "Necessary for some, beneficial for all."  We use this when we talk about evidence-based practices and strategies that have been specifically designed for students with Autism, however, these practices and strategies can be used for many students with a variety of special needs and in a variety of classrooms (regular, special education, etc.).

There are six Universal Supports that I am going to discuss today:
  • Functional Communication
  • Visual Supports
  • Instructional Strategies
  • Classroom Supports
  • Peer Supports 
  • Consistent Behaviour Programming

Functional Communication is a method of communication that allows a student to communicate his or her wants and needs. Communication is not only the spoken word, but includes the use of pictures, gestures, and technology to communicate. If a student does not use speech, he or she will require an individualized and appropriate method to express needs and desires.

A student with ASD who uses speech may not have functional communication. For example, he or she may have a large repertoire of words but is unable to ask to go to the washroom. Some students who use communication systems may also have difficulty.  Their communication device may be understood only by the teacher or Educational Assistant (EA), or their device may not be portable.

Research has shown that if a student does not have an efficient way to communicate his or her wants and needs, challenging behaviours may appear. Success for students with ASD is associated with the ability to engage in functional, spontaneous communication (McEachrin, Smith, & Lovaas, 1993).

Questions to consider when setting up your classroom:

1. Does the student use an effective method of communication to get his or her wants and needs met?
2. Does the student communicate in all environments (i.e., library, gym, classroom)?
3. Can supply staff understand the student’s communication method?

Visual Supports are supports to enhance a student’s understanding of communication. Speech is fleeting, and messages disappear once spoken. Visual supports are stable over time, so they are available as long as needed for interpretation (Surrey Place Centre, 2008). In addition, students with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) have demonstrated a stronger understanding of visual information compared to auditory (Hodgdon, 1995).

The format of visual supports vary depending on the interests and abilities of the student.
Visual supports can include the written word, line drawings, picture symbols, photographs, miniature objects, or real objects. Visual supports should be similar and as easy to use as those commonly used by peers (e.g., agendas, checklists, reminder notes, iPods, pictures for primary students, text for students who can read, binders for adolescents, etc.) (McClannahan & Krantz, 1999). Visual strategies are most effective when they are used independently and across all environments.

Questions to consider when setting up your classroom:

1. Are visual schedules displayed and used independently by the student?
2. Are visual strategies used to help the student with pro-social behaviour and social skills?
3. Are visual strategies used to display work expectations and enhance student motivation?

Effective Instructional Strategies that are tailored towards students with Autism
Spectrum Disorder (ASD) help promote task completion and decrease challenging behaviour.  It is important that instructional strategies are individualized to each student’s current skill level. 

Research has shown that instructional strategies based on Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) are effective for students with ASD. “ABA can be used to increase positive behaviours, teach new skills, maintain behaviours, generalize or transfer behaviour from one situation to another, [and] restrict or narrow conditions under which interfering behaviour occurs” (Ministry of Education, 2007, p. 53).  The goal is to fade adult supports, and increase system-based supports, such as the use of visual strategies to allow the student to independently complete academic and social tasks.

To promote student success, provide various means for learning, incorporate specific interests or motivators, and break skills into small teachable components. The ultimate goal is for the student to access the curriculum or alternative program to attain the required skills to have a high quality of life and be an integrated member.

Questions to consider when setting up your classroom:

1. Is the curriculum/alternative program accessible for the student in all areas?
2. Does the student have various ways to demonstrate learning?
3. Are the student’s interests and motivators identified and incorporated into lessons and activities across the day?

Classroom Supports:  Having a student with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) in the classroom may require additional support to ensure he or she is an active participant. This can be difficult for the classroom staff. Prioritizing goals, establishing routines, scheduling regular team meetings, and identifying roles and responsibilities will promote a team approach to create opportunities for the student to access the curriculum as appropriate.

Consider communicating amongst team members: important classroom routines, the educator’s teaching style, personal space issues, and location of team members’ desks in the classroom. Identify the team’s training needs early in the school year to increase the team’s ability to meet the needs of the student with ASD and promote his or her independence.

Questions to consider when setting up your classroom:

1. Have classroom team roles and responsibilities been defined?
2. Does the team agree on guiding principles and support one another with consistent practice?
3. Has the team determined when the student requires support and independence?

Peer Supports:  Using social skills appropriately in multiple settings can be difficult for a student with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Typical social skills deficits include difficulties with: reciprocity, initiating interactions, sharing enjoyment, empathy, and inferring the interests of others (APA, 1994). Many individuals with ASD desire social involvement, however, they typically lack the necessary skills to interact effectively.

An effective strategy to teach social interaction is a peer-mediated intervention. This involves training peers in social skills and how to interact with the student with ASD. Social skills training, however, is still required for the student with ASD. Once peers are taught how to interact in formal and natural situations, this enhances the number and quality of potential interactions.

Questions to consider when setting up your classroom:

1. Are there opportunities throughout the day for the student to interact with peers?
2. Have peers been taught how to interact with the student?
3. Are peers coached daily on how to interact with the student in natural situations?

Consistent Behaviour Programming:  Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) has been associated with behaviour that is challenging for educators. The first five universal supports create an environment and educational program that promote pro-social behaviour, learning, and communication for students with ASD. This last component focuses on preventing challenging behaviours that may remain.

A comprehensive educational program for students with ASD includes strategies to prevent challenging behaviour based on evidence informed assessment and data. Consistent behaviour programming emphasizes important preventative strategies for educators to use on a daily basis. These strategies reduce the likelihood of the need for a behaviour support plan.  The resulting decrease in challenging behaviour will lead to an increase in the student’s on-task behaviour while promoting access to the curriculum.

Questions to consider when setting up your classroom:

1. Are programming decisions based on data and evidence-informed assessment?
2. Are preventative strategies used to address the student’s challenging behaviour?
3. Is the student reinforced for demonstrating new skills and desired behaviours?

I find that reviewing the universal supports is useful, whether you are a first year teacher, or a seasoned veteran!  Every year, I review them to ensure that I have everything in place for my students, especially when I have new students or staff coming in to my classroom.  I also use them when students transition out of my classroom to assist their new school team with ensuring that they have everything in place.  Reviewing these supports on an ongoing basis ensures that you will have a successful school year for both staff and students.

I have made a printable planning kit based on the Universal Supports that you can download (for free!) in my TPT store.

Do you have any tools or kits that you use to help you plan the set-up of your classroom?  I'd love to hear about them!  Leave me a comment below!

And don't forget to hop over to Special Little Learner's blog to find out how she sets up her SPED classroom!

Until next time,

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