Monday, February 13, 2012

Awesome IKEA storage

I love IKEA and all the cute things that they have for kids. And I love their reasonable prices!

One of my favorite and most practical IKEA buys was the TROFAST storage system. In my classroom, we are always transitioning between different groups among various areas of the classroom and building. Organizing and storing all of the materials needed for each group was a bit of a challenge until I found this storage system

Each plastic bin can slide out on either side of the shelving unit and can be removed completely to take over to the needed area in the classroom. The shelf I bought does not take up a lot of room at all (only a foot and a half by 1 foot area of floor space).There are a variety of bin sizes that can be used based on your needs and it can fit a lot of bins (I have 9 bins on mine)!

Best Treasure Chest Ever!

This is the cutest treasure chest I have ever owned! I knew I had to have it the moment I saw it at IKEA. On top of how incredibly cute it is, this treasure chest is also very lightweight (even though it is pretty big) and cheap! It was only $15!!

MINNEN Toy box IKEA Easy to assemble/disassemble by simply closing/opening the zipper at the bottom.

Cars Movie Chart

Each week my students work towards earning the weekly behavior reward movie. On Fridays, students who have had a good week (based on staying on "green" on the behavior wheel) get to watch a movie during the last half-hour of the day (and sometimes get a popcorn treat as well!).

I use the pictured chart to monitor who will get to watch the movie that week. At the end of each day, we have our afternoon behavior meeting where students discuss their behavior and get to move their car if they earned it. 

Not only is our car chart super cute, but it also aligns with our classroom C.A.R.S. theme which stands for Capable And Responsible Students.

ABLLS website

My colleagues and I use the ABLLS (The Assessment of Basic Language and Learning Skills) to assess our students with autism and other low-incidence disabilities. It is an awesome tool for pinpointing what skills students are still lacking and provides a great sequence of skills for all aspects of a child's life (communication, social interaction, academics, self-care).

The ABLLS is very involed, however we found this helpful website that has tons of premade tracking spreadsheets which really cuts down on the work:

Recommended Instructional Reads

When working with students with moderate to intensive special needs it can sometimes be difficult to know where to begin. The following two books have been extremely helpful for me and my colleagues in helping us plan IEPS and one-on-one instruction.

Behavioral Intervention for Young Children With Autism: A Manual for Parents and Professionals by Catherine Maurice is a great resource for setting up "programs" for teaching even the most basic skills (such as sitting in a chair) to students with autism. The book contains a list of skills for various curriculum levels and then maps out how to teach each skill. It even describes what cues and prompting can be used. 

Teaching Reading to Children With Down Syndrome: A Guide for Parents and Teachers by Patricia Logan Oelwein helped me completely change my approach to teaching reading to students with intensive special needs (not just down syndrome). The aspect of the book that I found most helpful was the process of teaching sight words which focuses on the most functional words for the child and uses a very repetitive, explicit method of introducing and practicing these sight words.

Sensory Table

My classroom has one of those large, deep sensory tables. When we first started, the district had already generously filled it with sand which was a total nightmare! Sand was everywhere! Then, I tried filling it with rice which honestly was not much better. I could not figure out how to get the kids to keep all of the rice actually in the table! Everyday we would have a huge mess and it got to the point that I just put the lid on and quit using it.

Finally, someone gave me the great idea to fill large bins and place them within the table. Then, the table could act as a catch all and there would be mess. Additionally, we could now have a variety of sensory materials such as rice, pasta, beans to meet various sensory needs. However, be aware that if you put all of the different sensory materials in the table at the same time they will inevitably get mixed!

Schedule Organization

Organizing all of the cards for a visual schedule can sometimes be a challenge. This year we started using an old calendar pocket chart to store all of our extra cards. It has worked wonderfully! We store the pocket chart in the corner of the room so it is not too visually distracting. It takes up a lot less room than strips of velcro and it is much more organized than our previous file boxes full of cards. All of the cards are now so easy to see when setting up schedules each evening. Plus, collecting and sorting schedule cards is a great job for our students.

Numbered Centers

Originally when I planned our centers, I had a designated place for each specific center and none of them overlapped. For instance, the table in the back corner of the room was the "Work with Miss Allison" center so I was the only adult that used that center and kids would rotate. Well, with a very small classroom, 3 adults, and multiple activities and groupings occurring at any and all times throughout the day, restricting areas of the classroom in this way just was not practical. Eventually, we numbered the three main areas of the classroom (where all of the small group and individual instruction takes place). Now, on a student's schedule they may have the 1 card and then they know they have to go to the kidney table. The benefit to this is flexibility which is wonderful. However, one con is that students don't always know what subject they are going to be doing at the next center. Therefore, it is hard to expect them to independently bring any needed materials to their center with them. This is fine for my little kids because they don't usually need to bring anything with them, however this probably wouldn't be ideal for older kids. The main goal for my center schedules is to get students independently to where they need to be within the classroom or school. I am fine with cluing them in on what we are doing once we get there. 

Student Schedules

An important aspect of the special needs classroom is the visual schedule. In my classroom, all of my students have their own "center schedules" which help them to navigate the day.

Each schedule is on a laminated file folder with a vertical velcro strip for the morning on the front and an identical strip for the morning on the back. Currently, all of the student schedules are attached with heavy duty magnets all around my desk. However, since they are on file folders they could be portable for those kiddos that need to take their schedule with them to inclusion. The center cards are 1in x 1in picture symbols that match various centers around the classroom (computer, literacy center, sensory table, independent work) and sometimes other locations within the school building (specials, OT, lunch)

Center Pockets

One problem we ran into with our younger students was they would "read" their schedule card but then have difficulty physically transitioning to the correct area in the classroom and would stand around waiting for further assitance. To assist with making this transition more independent we now use center pockets at each center. Students must take the matching center card off their schedule and go put it in the pocket at their center.

Independent Work

A great way to create a physical boundary that is also functional is using white wire shelving for our structured teaching area. On one side of the shelf we store all of our file folders and taskboxes. This side faces the lower-level independent work station were kids are mostly working on these tasks. (Note for several students we use a sheet to cover the shelf while they are working to minimize the distraction).

On the other (back) side of the shelf, I attached a large pocket organizer using binder clips which we use to store all of the worksheets needed by the students working at the higher-level independent work station. Everything we need is easily accessible at each work station and the shelf physically separates the two stations as well.

Morning Message

A popular activity each morning in an early childhood classroom is writing the morning message. For several years, I gathered all of my students on the carpet and had them help dictate while I wrote out our morning message. I finally realized that this was a waste of time for my classroom of mostly non-readers.  Once I was finished with each daily message none of my kids could re-read what I had written and it really was not meaningful at all! Plus, many of them lost focus because they did not understand what I was writing or a lot of the questioning.To solve this problem, I created an interactive morning message where students put up picture cards to symbolize important information about our day (such as month, lunch, theme, group activity). This has been SO much more meaningful and the best part is that my students are now more engaged because they each get a turn to put up a part of the morning message and the picture format is much easier for them to understand.

Blog Introduction

I am so excited to finally be starting my blogging career! I LOVE blogs! There are so many awesome blogs out there and I have learned so much from reading the blogs of my fellow educators. I hope that this blog teaches readers some new ideas to use in their classroom, especially those teachers working with special needs students and in special needs classrooms.

I teach K-4 students with moderate to intensive special needs in a self-contained classroom in Dayton, Ohio. I have been teaching for 5 years and I LOVE my job. It can be a challenge on most days and I don't know any special ed teachers that enjoy all of the paperwork that we have to juggle. But teaching and reaching my kiddos is the most rewarding experience ever!

Welcome! and I hope you find something you can use!