Sunday, September 25, 2022

Facilitating Communication During Structured Play Groups in the Special Education Classroom

In early intervention settings, Structured Play Groups are a perfect, developmentally-appropriate evidence-based practice for autistic students and can be a valuable support for developing friendships and communication skills. In my experience, the benefit of these groups certainly stretches beyond just my autistic students but those with other developmental disabilities and even their neurotypical peers! Especially in these unique post-pandemic lockdown times when all students have had gaps in their opportunities for social engagement.

To facilitate communication during structured play groups, I created communication boards with common play phrases in predictable locations and fringe words specific to the play activity including related labels, actions, and even descriptive words. 

Each board was easy to implement because all I needed to do was print and laminate and they were ready to go! In my opinion, sometimes low-tech options are all you need! Students can simply point to the word they want to use or for some they may use the board as a word bank to facilitate their verbal communication. 

To make these even easier to use in my classroom, I created lesson plans for each board that could easily be implemented by my paraprofessionals or subs. These lesson plans were differentiated for early, intermediate, and advanced learners. Often, I would have a paraprofessional introduce some of the vocabulary and concepts on the board using the lesson plans during 1:1 instruction, and then I would help with the application during our structured play groups. Then, once we had practiced a bit with a board I would add it to my free play area so that students always had them accessible during play times. 

And as an added bonus, when I added these boards to my TPT store I also added differentiated IEP goal ideas that aligned with the lesson plans. 

In addition to being a big hit with my students, these communication boards have been a big hit with my TPT customers too! 

Ready to check these out for youself? Head over to my TPT store!

Monday, September 19, 2022

Sensory Supports in the Special Education Classroom

Did you know that research has shown that up to 88% of students with an identified disability have difficulty processing sensory input? Therefore, addressing sensory needs in the special education classroom is essential to ensuring students are ready to learn. In my classroom, I used a variety of whole group and individual sensory supports. Every day I had proactive supports embedded within our schedule. Then, during difficult moments when students were dysregulated, I could rely on these well-established strategies to provide additional support.

Deep Breathing
I love deep breathing to help myself calm when I am stressed. Often it was hard for my students to master this strategy because they would breathe too quickly or intensely (picture hyperventilating in a paper bag 😬).

I created an interactive visual support that incorporated special interests. Students use a pointer icon to track while they breathe in for a count of 3 and out for a count of 6. I have students exhale twice as long as they inhale to ensure they fully empty their lungs of carbon dioxide to provide more room for oxygen.

This support can be projected and used with the whole group.

Or it can be made into individual breathing boards for students who need more frequent deep breathing breaks.

Proactively, deep breathing is a great strategy after sensory-rich times of day like arrival, specials, or recess. It can also be great before stressful times of day such as before a test or quiz.

Reactively, students can take an extra deep breathing break in a calming corner or in the hallway.

Grab this support in my TPT store by clicking the image below!

Classroom Yoga
Yoga is another great sensory support for helping students feel calm and mindful. In my classroom, I tried to use yoga videos on YouTube but found they were often too fast-paced or required too much motor planning. So I created my own classroom yoga materials!

I wanted something that could be easily adapted to my students' needs so that they could focus more on regulating and less on the pace and motor demands. I used color coding to easily differentiate between difficulty levels.

I also wanted something that could be used during with the whole group so I created a projectable slideshow and posters. The slide show can be used to create a daily sequence.

The posters can also be used to create a group sequence. I have also seen some students choose a few options to place by their carpet time area for students to choose a pose when they come to the carpet.

Additionally, I created a smaller set of flashcards which can be used to create individualized yoga sequences or can be used to create a yoga ring as each pose is introduced and practiced during direct instruction.

Finally, I wanted a support that could be easily implemented by support staff or paraprofessionals without them needing to put much thought into the flow so I created a variety of sequences that were ready to implement. These can be used individually or as a whole group and I have special sequences that can be used during specific times of the day such as carpet time, warming up, cooling down, or a quick sequence that students can do standing next to their desks.

Proactively, I love starting the day with classroom yoga and find it to be much more beneficial than starting the day with academic demands such as morning work.

Reactively, students can use their yoga flashcard ring of mastered poses or a sequence to complete when they are in need of some extra time to regulate.

Find it on my TPT store!

Sensory Choice Folders
For some students, sensory supports need to be individualized to address their specific sensory processing differences and meet their needs. I wanted an easy way to implement student-specific sensory breaks so I created these Sensory Choice Folders which contained strategies that had been previously introduced and practiced.

This allowed me to determine who needed alerting input and who needed calming input. Additionally, it made it easy to proactively schedule sensory breaks because I could easily add icons to their visual schedules for a folder break. Students who needed alerting would have a "yellow folder" icon while students who needed calming would have a "blue folder" icon.

Incorporating choice was also effective for my students who were sometimes resistant to sensory supports.

Proactively, I collaborated with my building OT to determine the frequency of these folder breaks for each student.

Reactively, I could easily increase the number of folder breaks for students by adding additional icons to their daily schedule. Because students used these folders daily and had practiced all of the activities presented inside, it made it easier for them to make a choice in the moment even when they were feeling dysregulated.

Grab yours below!

Calming and Alerting Cheatsheet
In the moment, it can sometimes be hard to remember what type of input is calming and what is alerting. I created this quick cheatsheet as an easy reference at any time.

Click the image below to get this great cheatsheet for FREE!

Wednesday, August 24, 2022

Why I ditched Communication Notebooks in my SpEd Classroom... and never looked back!

My first few years of teaching I used communication notebooks in my elementary special education classroom.... and I HATED them. 

For those who are not familiar, a communication notebook is a notebook passed between home and school to communicate between families and school staff. It sounds good in theory, but in my experience it was not. 

Why did I hate these darn notebooks so much?!

  • they were time-consuming... and the absolute worst time of the day to add something that is time-consuming is during pack up and dismissal. It is chaos enough as it is!
  • they were ignored... every teacher knows which notebooks, binders, folders, etc. are checked every night and which ones are not. Which essentially means you have just wasted your time writing in the notebook. 

  • they were negative... written communication about student behavior can be easily misunderstood and can lead to defensiveness which is not an effective way to foster a parent-teacher relationship

  • they leave out the student... for our students it is so important to facilitate communication opportunities at every opportunity

So what can you do instead?!

  • Reminder Bracelets: These were a game changer! I would attach them to the student's wrist or backpack loop and write on any reminder that I wanted to be sure wasn't ignored and they were MUCH faster (i.e. field trip tomorrow, please send more diapers, etc.) 

Oriental Trading Reminder Bracelets

  • Think it Over Sheets: When a student engaged in negative behavior, I learned to focus less on the offensive and more on making it a teachable moment. In Dr. Ross Greene's book Lost at School I really connected with the concept that "kids do well if they can" and this was especially enlightening considering all of my students had disabilities which often impacted their emotional and behavioral regulation skills. Rather than sending home a long note to parents, my staff and I would reflect with the student on their behavior and help them choose an alternative for the future. (We also directly taught regulation skills through social stories, role playing, and sensory activities). Then I would sign the form and send it home for parent signature. 

  • Home-School Communication Reports: To involve my students and work on their recall skills, I created these communication reports which we would complete at the end of each day. My students would circle or write what they did that day and then when they got home they could easily refer to their report to tell their families about their day. My families LOVED how their children could now share and it was a great authentic communication opportunity. On some, I also included a small box where staff or families could write a brief note if needed. This definitely eliminated any rambling negativity!

To grab these home-school communication reports and more check out this resource in my TPT store! 

Until next time!

Tuesday, August 16, 2022

10 Back to School Resources for Special Education Classrooms

Back to School season is upon us! I know I can't believe it either. To make heading back to the classroom easier I have compiled my top 10 special education resources for your classroom. Click on any of the cover images below to find the resource in my TPT store!

Resources for Teacher Organization

Before the students even start, it is essential to get organized! So much of the SpEd world revolves around paperwork so these resources are great time (and sanity) savers!

1. NO PREP IEP Organization Kit: This kit provides helpful resources for IEP planning and progress reports. Check out this blog post for a page-by-page snapshot of what's included: Must-Have IEP Organization Kit


2. NO PREP IEP Progress Monitoring BUNDLE: This bundle includes over 100 progress monitoring sheets covering TONS of skills in Math, Reading, Writing, Communication, Vocabulary, Daily Routines, and Fine Motor that are ready to print and go!

Resources for Routines

The first week (or two!) of school should mainly focus on establishing classroom routines. Once students learn these expectations it will be easier to begin introducing academic content.

3. Location-Based Interactive Visual Schedule: These visual supports are essential for students who need assistance with transitioning more willingly and independently. Students match icons to corresponding location signs to get them from place to place all day long! Learn more in this blog post: Student Schedules

4. Number of the Day Math Corner: Practicing basic math skills every day in my math corner was a total game changer in my classroom! The daily repetition allowed students to demonstrate skills beyond what I even imagined when we first started out. For more information on implementing this resource in your classroom check out this post: Number of the Day Math Corner Bulletin Board

5. Differentiated Morning Meeting Book and Worksheets: Morning Meeting was always my favorite way to ease into task demands each day. It was an easy activity to keep predictable and differentiate especially through this resource.

6. Interactive Morning Message: My favorite part of our Morning Meeting was our interactive morning message. I loved watching my students build confidence in completing the message and reading it each day. It was always a popular classroom job! Learn more in this post: Morning Message

7. Differentiated Home-School Communication Reports: These communication reports made daily home-school communication more meaningful and created authentic communication opportunities for students. A win for everyone! Learn more in my recent post: Why I Ditched Communication Notebooks in my Special Education Classroom... and Never Looked Back!

Resources for Instruction

8. Back to School BUNDLE: This is actually 3 resources in one! My Back to School Thematic Unit (to learn more about why I love thematic units don't miss this post: ) and Picture Book Communication and Comprehension Supports for No, David! and David Goes to School by David Shannon. 

Resources for Paraprofessional Management

9. EDITABLE Paraprofessional Role Sheets: This is one of my most popular resources! It helps communicate expectations not only to paraprofessionals but to subs and volunteers too. Plus they are super cute!

10. Paraprofessional Survival Kit Gift Tag: To start the year I always liked to give my paras a little something. These gift tags made an extra cute addition and you can grab them for free in my TPT store! And you can learn more on this post: Paraprofessional Survival Kit- FREEBIE