Saturday, September 26, 2015

Related Services Part 1: Mindset


Before I started teaching, I imagined related services as something separate from my class. I would teach them, then the physical therapist would come in and take care of their motor skill deficits. The speech language pathologist would come in and fix their communication problems. The occupational therapist would…well, I really didn’t know what the occupational therapist would do!

Once I began teaching, I saw my room as an extension of the therapies. They would tell me what to do and I would do it. For example, “Joe needs to get in the stander for 45 minutes per day.” So, Joe would get in the stander 45 minutes per day (well, ya know, most days). “Do these facial exercises with John to stimulate chewing”. So, I’d squish John’s face before lunch. With this mindset, it was so difficult to answer questions! “Hey Jenny, how is Suzie doing with the articulation of her “th” sound?” *Deer in headlights*  “…better?” I knew the importance of therapies and understood that simply working on it in their once or twice per week little snapshots of time wasn’t enough, but I still kept therapy work and class work separated, only really focusing on what was a specific IEP goal.

My mindset has shifted. If you could speak to the therapists in my district, you’d know I’m not perfect (lucky for me, I’m not giving you their numbers) ;-) but I try. I see the value of related service integration. I know that for my students to truly make gains in related service goals, they need to be able to generalize these skills throughout their days. It needs to be a priority for me to mesh ALL of their goals into an individualized program for each of my students. I'd love to, through this series, open up the conversation for others to share with me how they incorporate therapies into their classrooms. In part 2 of this related services series, I’ll reveal what spurred the change in my head, heart, and classroom. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

#Spedchat Back to School Countdown!

I am so super excited that it's back to school time! I absolutely cannot wait to see my kids!!  I thought I would link up with #SpedChatSaturday (yes, I know it's Wednesday...don't judge) ;-) for a back-to-school countdown. Here we go!!

My classroom library is so overwhelming to me! I have so many books and need a good system for rotating them and being able to quickly access them when a topic comes up. 

I look so forward to our back to school bowling party! We'll have it about three weeks before school starts for students. It occurred to me last year that my students don't usually have the opportunity to get together with one another like other high schoolers do. I had planned to schedule a couple activities this summer, but the summer has just really gotten away from me!!

Never underestimate the value of an organizational tool.  Binders, totes, and containers make it easy to access everything. Schedules are the best way for my parapros and I to be sure everything gets accomplished daily. Check out my earlier post regarding how I create our schedule .

I so badly want a wheelchair swing for my kiddos! I think several of them would get such great vestibular feedback from it! Let the fundraising begin...those slabs of metal are expensive!! 

More than that, I so wish that the general public would understand that my class is not a babysitting class and I do not babysit! Once people come into my class, they see it, but I think there are too many people that just assume not much goes on in a self-contained classroom. So, I invite folks in anytime they're willing/able!

Visual timers are great for students as well as for me! Here is the link to the timer we use:

I think it is so easy to get caught up in things that do not matter. I want my students, when they leave my school, to be as ready as possible for what is ahead. I refuse to settle!

Check out Lattes, Lesson Plan, & IEP's to get the templates so that you can link up with your countdown too!

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Scheduling: Nightmare or Daydream?

Physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, inclusion classes, lunches, feedings, electives, data collection, sensory diet, academics, functional skills, independent living, transition activities, and at some point these kids have to go potty! How in the world can we possibly fit it all into one day?!?!

Each class is different and your scheduling needs may be completely different from mine, but I'd love to share with you what works for my current self-contained class and the steps I take each year when building a schedule. Hopefully you'll learn something and leave a comment teaching me something! Warning: this one is LOOOOONG!

Several years ago, my class size grew and the ability level differences among my students were extremely varied. The whole-class approach to teaching just didn't seem to work for us anymore! So, we adopted a rotation system and I've never looked back! We still have portions of our day that are whole group, but not for the majority of the day. Initially, we rotated for 20 minutes each station, but my current students are more successful with 10-12 minute rotations. Because I am at the high school and our class periods are 50 minutes, our morning block consists of 10-minute stations with 5-minute brain/restroom breaks during class changes. It just logistically works for us! Take a look at your students and their levels. Figure out what would help them be most successful and what works with your time frame and go with it! Okay, let's get down to business!

  1. Open Excel.  No, it's not time to fold that laundry that's been in the basket for two days. Put down the remote! You did NOT hear the doorbell. Haha!  Seriously, though, isn't getting started the hardest part?!
  2. Decide how you will divide your students. Will you have groups of students that rotate together or will they rotate individually? Put the student/group names across the top of the spreadsheet, beginning in column B.
  3. How will you divide your time? I start my schedule from the moment my students enter rather than from the school start time (but that's because this year my students began arriving about an hour and a half before school started). Figure out what breakdown works for you and put the times down in column A, beginning with row 2. You'll end up with a spreadsheet that looks a little something like this:
    School 'starts' at 8:15. I made note here of class changes and such.
  4. Start with the constants: arrival, departure, lunch times, feedings, toiletings, daily inclusion classes/electives. Add in therapists IF they come at a consistent time. I usually do not put mine into the schedule because they don't have a specific time that they necessarily come each time and I don't want to be stuck with a time slot wherein the therapist isn't there yet and the student has nothing to do! 
    • This year, I managed to make one schedule work for all 5 days by putting in things like "Social/APE" because my students did social story work on Mondays and Fridays during that time slot and adapted P.E. on Tuesday-Thursday. However, in years past, I have made separate schedules for different days if there were major differences between the days. I know it seems like a lot of work, but you'll be SO grateful that you took the time ahead of time to work out the logistics of the room.
    • Color-code these sections. Choose a different color for you and for each of your parapros. Then decide who will be responsible for making sure these things (such as toileting/feeding) happen. We are a team in my room and we definitely help each other out by sharing responsibilities as needed, but I like to be sure that I account for staffing for each thing that needs to be done (because I also have to account for others to be in the room supervising and watching for seizure activity). I like planning it ahead of time because I can also then be sure that I even out the workload, minimizing the risk of someone feeling like they are always changing/feeding/etc...
  5. Now, take a look at your IEP goals/transition activities. How will they be monitored? By whom? When? Where? Account for these goals by adding time for them into the schedule. Color-code as needed to be sure that the appropriate staffpersons are monitoring goals. I usually have each student rotate to each of the adults throughout the day. I just say "Mrs. Debbie's table", but she may monitor three of their goals throughout the week while they are at her table. 
  6. Once the constants and the goals are added and accounted for, brainstorm things that will be beneficial for individual students that are not necessarily IEP goals. As you know, we do far beyond what is stated in that little packet of papers! Make each moment that you have with your students count by selecting activities that allow for increased independence and have meaning and purpose. But, remember that brain breaks and choice leisure time have purpose! Add in these activities and color-code as needed for activities that cannot be completed with independence. This is where it starts to get a little hairy because there are only so many adult bodies in your room to provide direct assistance and overall supervision. Take a break, go ahead and fold that laundry! Watch some Netflix and try again tomorrow:-) 
Your completed schedule may look a little something like this!

I truly hope that this super-long post has helped someone out there tackle the craziness that is scheduling for a special education classroom! Scheduling doesn't have to be a nightmare!  Stay tuned for a future post regarding how I make this schedule easier for us to use on a daily basis and how I ensure (prove) that each goal is accounted for in our daily schedule! I would greatly appreciate your feedback!! Leave your thoughts in the comments and happy scheduling!!

If you'd like to learn more from other special educators about scheduling, follow this picture to a link-up by Delightfully Dedicated!

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Morning Meeting (for HS/Adults)

Ah, the morning meeting! I read about their success at younger grades and was curious as to how I could effectively implement a morning meeting with high schoolers (and adults at my summer job) with disabilities. The above picture is what I came up with! As you can see, there is a section for attendance (names blurred), picture communication symbols for each part of the date, a weather report, local (Atlanta area and local high school) sports teams playing that day, and an area for me to write in or post a current event to discuss. We have used it for several days at the center and the participants have done so well and enjoyed it!! Based on her vocalizations, I was able to determine that one person really enjoyed the Braves! Well, hello there reinforcer, motivator, and communication point!! ;-)

Pictured with the board is the rationale that I created so that I would be prepared to prove that the activity is age-appropriate, including the difference between a cartoon and a picture communication symbol. So far it has not been needed, but it gave me the opportunity to be sure I was intentional with each section. I'm working hard on being intentional, but that's for another post;-) 

I made a symbol storage book for the symbols not in use on a given day. I used dollar store vellum folders put into a 3-ring binder and organized the symbols by section. This has made it very easy to flip to a section and allow participants to select the needed symbol without fumbling through bags of symbols. The only downside?

Uneven Velcro use! Grrrr... ;-) haha! But, a sweet Instagram friend introduced me to a company that sells velcro for cheaper (! And you can purchase just one side of it so that I can even out my supply! Man, I love this teacher community!

So tell me, do you do a morning meeting? What else do/would you include? I know that this is in its puppy stages for me and I look forward to it growing!!

Monday, June 22, 2015


I have taken a summer position at a day program for adults with disabilities and I am VERY excited!!  I cannot wait to learn as much as I can about the transition from high school to postsecondary life for my students!  I am praying that I'll be an asset to this organization and the clients that they serve. While listening to their amazing schedule of activities, I began to take a look at my own class program and activities. One major question is still swirling in my mind: how much attention should I pay to what is "age-appropriate"?

Age-appropriate is defined, by my good friend Google (from Oxford Dictionaries), as "suitable for a particular age or age group". Easy enough, right? Most 18-year-olds do not like Spongebob, so it would not be appropriate for my students to enjoy Spongebob. Boom, the end. Except, there are some flaws to this logic:

  1. Some high schoolers do, in fact, like Spongebob.
  2. Who am I to tell an adult what he should/should not like?
  3. What "age" should we be concerned with: physical or cognitive?
I scroll through my Facebook news feed and see what I think would be deemed age-inappropriate things that adults with typical cognition are doing: dressing up in costumes for comic-con and renaissance faires; wearing Disney Princess shirts; participating in role-playing card/dice games; watching kids movies; dedicating entire rooms in their homes to Disney merchandise; reading kids books (okay, maybe that last one is me. haha!). And do you know why they do it? Because it makes them happy. And do you know who stops them? No one. 

On the other hand, we spend so much time and effort trying to help our students fit in with the general population, so I understand that if I have a student who carries around a Larry Boy from Veggie Tales doll, he will look different. I completely agree with helping my students become accepted by the community and know that there are some social norms that need be adhered to. There is, indeed, a time and place for everything. I also understand that I have students who do not want to be associated with being a "baby" and would not appreciate being forced to do "baby" things. This is why I feel that choice is so important within my classroom. I try to include classroom activities for the various interests of my students. To be honest, though, that might include providing materials for a student to color during choice/leisure if that's what she appreciates (and the coloring book that she purchased for herself on a community outing just might have been Dora the Explorer). I feel a little biased and definitely confused, so I honestly ask: is this wrong? Should I encourage my students to participate only in age-appropriate activities? Should I remove from my classroom the puzzles, books, and games that would not be suitable for high schoolers? What are your thoughts??

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Balloon Pop: A learning game

So, if you follow me on Instagram (lovespedteaching), then you saw my post about preparing for a water balloon sight word game for ESY (Extended School Year/summer school). I didn't invent this wheel; it's all over pinterest! I certainly cannot take credit, but I did want to write a post with my thoughts about what worked and some potential adjustments and uses for the future. So, put on your swimsuit and numb your fingers so you can get ready to fill up and tie a ton of water balloons! ;-)

When I posted the above picture, I got a response from The Peachie Speechie who had recently written a blog post about doing this with her own children. Of course, I went right to the post so that I could see what she did and what worked for her! You can read her post here. I LOVE that she includes tips for articulation practice. Seriously, go check it out! I am sure you'll hear me say this often, but I LOVE the Instagram teacher community!!

I filled the water balloons the night before and took them to school in a cooler. Before the students arrived, I wrote letters and words in sidewalk chalk on the outdoor basketball court. I gave each student their own set in their own section of the court. I love this because it was so very easy to differentiate for their learning needs. One sweet kiddo had letter sounds, another had her own list of vocabulary words, and others used Dolch sight words.
I was a little concerned about some of my silly boys choosing to throw the water balloons at one another (I was actually subbing for a different ESY teacher and had only known these kids for one day, but I really thought they would enjoy something different), so we had a discussion about expectations before the activity. They did great! I had brought towels, but didn't even need them!

Initially, my parapro and I handed water balloons to students one at a time and told them a letter/word to throw their balloon to. They had to find the word independently, throw the balloon to hit the word, and then verbal students would say the word back to us. If they struggled with pronunciation, we took a few short seconds to work on various things like tongue placement for letter sounds. This went very quickly, surprisingly, so no one had to wait long in order to have another turn. They were instructed to read the remaining words while waiting. After a short while, we started asking "Which word would you like to hit next?". This made the game a little more difficult, but they seemed to like it better. Hooray for choice! One student struggled with having too many options, so my parapro would give her a choice of two for each. So easy to differentiate!
This was very easy to do with a small group of students, but I think it could work with an even larger group with a few adjustments. So, what could be done differently?

  • Have students write their own sight words. The teacher could provide lists for them, but have them do the writing! Perhaps they could even choose ten words from a list of fifteen in order to increase choice-making.
  • For larger groups, it may be beneficial to separate the balloons into separate grocery bags so that each student gets the same amount. Of course, pops and accidents will happen, so keep extras for those just-in-case moments.
  • It could be done in relay form. Students would be in small groups and lined up in single file. The teacher would call a word and the person in the front of the line would grab a balloon, run up, pop the balloon onto the called-aloud word, and run to the back of their line. The teacher would then give that team their next word and it would go on from there. This could also be differentiated by giving groups different words and selecting words for particular students.
The possibilities for learning opportunities are vast! What types of things could be practiced using balloon pop?
  • Math facts: have answers on the ground and you call out a math problem (or you call out answers and they pop the problem)
  • Sight words (obviously)
  • Vocabulary words: you call out the definition, students pop the word
  • Community helpers: you call their job description/how they help, students pop the community helper name
  • ASL: give a sign and the student pops the corresponding letter/word
  • Nonreaders: laminated pictures taped to the ground
Have you tried balloon pop? What successes/struggles did you have? What types of things did your students practice?

Saturday, June 13, 2015

TWI: Part 1 Freebies!

What do teachers do on summer break? We learn about teaching, of course! ;-) I have been participating in a summer book study with The Kindergarten Smorgasboard, studying the book "Teaching with Intention" by Debbie Miller. We just finished part one and my eyes have been opened! I won't spoil the book for you (because you're looking for it on your Kindle right now, aren't you?!), but I will say that she encourages you to really take a look at what you do and WHY you do it. In this part, she discusses vision and reflection. One of the first things that is suggested is envisioning your "perfect" classroom scene. I struggle pretty seriously with perfectionism, so I prefer to consider my "best" classroom. I created this page for use in envisioning my best classroom and working toward making it a reality:
It's free in my brand-new Teachers Pay Teachers store, so click on the picture and grab it up! Once I determine the vision for my best classroom and the goals and steps that I hope to make it possible, how will I know that I'm making progress?  Hmm...can you tell I'm a special educator? I'm progress monitoring myself!! Haha! Well, I chose to devise a list of questions that I will answer daily in my afternoon reflection time (That's what I'm calling that time after the kids leave when I can barely keep my head off of the table and my brain is completely shot) ;-)  It's not fancy, but I'm planning to print it once and affix it to the inside of a composition book that I will use for reflection. Also included in the download is a worksheet-style with blanks. Click on the picture to enjoy this freebie as well! 

My overarching goal for a very long time has simply been to be a better teacher today than I was yesterday. I really feel like these tools will help me in that venture! 

What are some other teaching-related books that you would recommend? I'd love to expand my professional library!

Friday, June 12, 2015

Dear First Year Teacher Me,

Graduating with my best friend from birth, Carla!

Oh, if I could go back. If I could just speak to this girl with the knowledge and experience that I now have. First, I would tell her to do something with that hair ;-) but then I would share with her a few things about being a special educator.

  • Make a detailed schedule. Put in everything: feedings, changing, toileting, everything. This is the best way to account for all of your staff and be sure that everything gets done.
  • Be flexible. Your plan will not always work every day and that’s okay. Your principal may come observe you while there is a kid having a meltdown. It happens! It doesn’t mean you aren’t good at what you do! If you have a good schedule that works for your class, stick with it. Then, even if the world is blowing up, it is obvious that it’s not common for those random off-schedule occurrences.
  • You are not defined by your students’ achievements or what others think. You may work your rear-end off and have the greatest research-based activities planned, and a student still doesn’t progress as quickly as you think they should. Just step back and try something else. Don’t be afraid to ask teachers who have been there. We’re all just trying to do the best we can with the tools/knowledge that we have so far!
  • You cannot make everyone happy. There will be parents that have an agenda, there will be coworkers who don't appreciate your hard work and/or positivity. Don't waste your time and effort trying to make everyone appreciate who you are. Be you!
  • It is important to maintain balance. Yes, read professional development books on the beach, but also read Jane Eyre. Discuss the newest reading strategies, but also discuss football (Alabama football, of course) ;-)  You will benefit from this balance, as will your students.
  • Your students will steal your heart. When they hurt, you will hurt. When they have an "aha!" moment, you will swell with pride! When they move on from your class, it will be harder than you would imagine. Cherish your moments with them as you change their lives (and they change yours)!
I'd love to hear from you!  If you could go back and speak to first-year-teacher-you, what would you say? 

Thursday, June 11, 2015

About Me!

Hi there!! My name is Jenny and I am a special education teacher for students with moderate to profound intellectual disabilities and autism at a fantastic high school south of Atlanta, GA! I have known since 4th grade that I wanted to teach students with significant disabilities and am so grateful to say that I'm living my dream!

I have been married to an amazingly supportive man for 10 years (10?! How did THAT happen?!?!) and have been teaching for 9 of those years. I grew up in Pensacola, FL and still miss the beach like crazy!!  Thankfully, our families still live there, so we visit often!

Last summer, I found a wonderful community of educators on instragram. If you've not done so, I encourage you to get an account and search #teachersfollowteachers or #iteachsped to get you started! I follow some inspiring teachers, so find me at lovespedteaching and go from there:-) I am starting this blogging journey with much prayer and excitement, hoping that I will be able to connect with even more amazing educators to learn from and share ideas with as we all work to be the best teachers we can be!