Thursday, January 18, 2018

Tech Tips for Special Education

Hey! I'm here with 4 tech tips to help engage your students and keep technology accessible for all of your learners.

1.) Guided Access

Here's the scenario... you finally get iPads in your classroom. You put your students on selected apps and start doing direct instruction with a student at the back table. 10 minutes later, you have 3000 selfies and two kids trying to buy animal crackers on Amazon. UGH! So much for the iPads? Not exactly. If you don't know about the Guided Access feature, consider your teacher life changed.

Guided Access essentially locks your students into an app. They would need to be able to triple click the home button AND enter a 4 digit passcode to exit the app. Even our sneakiest kiddos would struggle with that! Here's the steps:

  • Launch the "settings" app on your iPad.
  • Tap "general"
  • Tap "accessibility"
  • Tap "guided access" under the "learning" header
  • Tap on "passcode settings"
  • Set passcode
  • Move "accessibility shortcut" to ON, which allows you to triple-click the home button and enter Guided Access at any time

2.) Gloves

Ever have a student who struggles with one finger isolation and consistently makes incorrect taps with her other fingers on the iPad? Try gloves! iPads won't work with gloved fingers, so adding a modified glove is a great way to help your student access technology effectively. 

3.) Google Keep

Have students with major executive functioning needs? I'm talking the student who's incredibly unorganized and no planner in the world could ever keep up with them. Try Google Keep! If this student always has a phone or tablet, this is a wonderful tech resource. You can create color coded reminders and lists to keep life organized, plus it has really cool search features to find exactly what you're looking for.

4.) Quizlet

Study skills are so hard to teach and maintain for our students. Quizlet won't solve all of these problems, but technology makes everything more fun, right? Students can make decks of flashcards using this app, or search for premade ones in the app. If you have students constantly losing items, like study guides and flashcards, this is a great way to engage in technology AND maybe pass the quiz!

What favorite tech resources do you use with your students in special education?


Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Read Alouds to Support Positive Behaviors

Bibliotherapy, or the use of books as therapy, can be such a great addition to our special education classrooms! Where to begin? Here's a few of my favorites.

Julia Cook
I've mentioned her before, and I'll say it again, and again, and again... best author everrrrr! Her books are specific, engaging, and so effective for students with lagging social skills. Check out her website here, where you can search for books by topic. She gets as specific as books on stealing, handling feedback, digital footprints, and how to handle farting (seriously!!!!). 

I have a set of about 20 of her books and book companions, thanks to super generous donors. Check out my Donors Choose project if you want some inspiration on creating your own project to gain some of her amazing books!

First Book
Do you know about FirstBook? It's an incredible organization and store: a nonprofit, store and mission all in one! They have entire sets of Social - Emotional books, also sorted by skill type. The best part? HIGH QUALITY, FREE, downloadable resources to accompany many of the books! While of course nothing is one size fits all, isn't it great to have a start on some questions, discussion starters, and activities you could use for some of these books? 

In case your curious, here's some of our personal classroom favorites!


Sunday, November 26, 2017

6 Amazon Musts to Survive the Rest of the School Year

Guys... our jobs are really hard. I'm thanking my lucky stars on the daily that my job is also equally rewarding. I've taught in this high stress field for 8 years and have determined these 6 items to be my absolute necessities! A mix of teacher needs and student needs... go grab them on Amazon today!

Gone are the days of obnoxious callouses and embarassingly tired hands from endless cutting! This paper trimmer is an actual life saver. It also has a small lock on the blade in case your students get their hands on it - it's a little tricky to figure out so you'll have time to grab it out of their grip before chaos ensues :)

At one point I was pretty skeptical about essential oils, but I can now say I'm a true believer! This diffuser is so easy to use (all you need is water, electricity, and some essential oils!), and the results are honestly tangible. I love diffusing oils for MYSELF - the scents are so calming and honestly set the tone for a relaxed classroom! I also love it for my students. Not only does it mask the post-recess funk that inevitably takes over the room in warm months, but the benefits really help our kiddos unwind and focus. 

New to essential oils? This is exactly what you need to get started on diffusing in your classroom! What does lavender do? Promotes calmness, relaxation, and focus. Gee, I wonder who that could benefit? ;)

Don't skimp on a desk band by using an exercise band - they will break quickly if you have a major fidgeter! Stick with the real thing. These bouncy bands are a life saver in my classroom. My kids have so much more tolerance for sitting in their desks when these are available. Ever have a student who endlessly wants to go for walks as their break? I have seen a decrease in break-demanding in many of my students if they have the ability to move their legs purposefully and get some energy out WHILE they're seated. Give it a try...and, you're welcome in advance.

Ever tried to use chew tubes with your students to only have them tear them into small pieces within minutes? Ew, and, feels pointless. These - are the holy grail of chewables! Pros: hard to lose (always on the pencil!), easy to clean/sanitize, hard to destroy, fairly discreet. Cons: Covers the eraser. What are you waiting for?

Do you like your coffee hot and your water cold? Seems like a small delicacy to most teachers, right? Before I had a Yeti Rambler, I felt the same way. Now I have TWO - one for my coffee, one for my water! I can drink both at my leisure, stay hydrated and caffeinated, and not have to be grossed out when my non-iced coffee is cold at 11am. #bestmugever

So, what do you think? What are some teacher necessities that carry you through the school year?


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Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Mindfulness Strategies for Sped Teachers & Students

Mindfulness is the state of awareness of the present moment. What does this do for you? Minimize a feeling of overwhelm, assist in feeling grounded, Calm big emotions, and create an overall feeling of gratitude and happiness.

I can’t think of one teacher that doesn’t need to practice mindfulness - man, our brains are always in overdrive! 

For teachers... let’s think about breathing and focus. There are some awesome apps that you can tune into on your lunch hour or prep period to help focus and ground you in the present moment. Two that I love are Headspace and Calm. If possible, taking a walk outside just to pay attention to the sounds, smells and sights can help take away some of the endless bouncing thoughts about which kids you’re worried about or how you’re going to finally organize your data binders. 

Kids? There are endless resources these days! Check out GoNoodle, it’s totally free and amazing for a multitude of reasons. They have specific channels that focus on mindfulness which are visual and really engaging for kids. Another great resource is MindYeti! While I like it, it’s important to know they don’t use any visuals, so you have to ensure your kids will be engaged solely by the auditory component!

Tangible Items
I also love some of these tangible "mindful" items that you can snag off of Amazon. (these are affiliate links!)

Do you remember these sand zen gardens?! Well, they are honestly so relaxing. Who knew? We have one in my classroom and I have a student who regularly requests it. Just make sure you keep it in a safe spot, away from busy hands because it is 100% likely that the sand will go everywhere without supervision.
How about those cheesy plug-in zen waterfalls? I have some students that go into a total trance watching our mini waterfall! It's a great way to focus on sounds and sights to distract from small problems or feeling overwhelmed.

What about classroom resources?

Have you seen the Breathing Choice Board freebie in my TeachersPayTeachers store? It’s a great Kickstarter in engaging your class in targeted breathing exercises. I’ve seen an increase in my students buy-in with structured breathing exercises after implementing these! 

What do you think? Do you have some mindful strategies or activities that you do to teach mindfulness to your students and keep yourself at peace?


Sunday, November 5, 2017

Teaching Gratefulness in Special Ed

Fall! Everyone's favorite season, right?! I love fall for millions of reasons, including sweater weather, chai lattes, TV shows coming out, the World Series, and gorgeous trees - but I also LOVE teaching gratefulness to my class.

There is SO much research that shows us how crucial gratitude is in creating and maintaining happiness and joy in our everyday lives (here's one from Psych Today and one from Harvard Health). We know this. And while gratitude is something we should be practicing regularly to keep us grounded, humble, and - well - HAPPY, November really is the perfect month to teach this to our kiddos.

By November, back to school craziness is (hopefully) starting to settle, and you can begin some new routines, like adding gratefulness practice into your daily routine. And, of course, it nicely ties in with Thanksgiving!

So here's a round-up of some simple, easy to differentiate and easy implement ideas on how to begin incorporating this into your daily routine this month! (The Amazon links are affiliate links!)


A lesser known Dr. Seuss book about gratitude, such a great read, and familiar for our students!

Focuses on being thankful for relationships with your parents.

This is one of my all time favorite books! Gives gratitude a very applicable face for kids.

TPT Freebies

12 Days of Gratitude - an awesome resource to get started on gratitude and get your class excited for the holiday season.

I love this freebie because it also focuses on needs vs. wants, which is an important piece when introducing what we're grateful for!

A more comprehensive freebie with more writing opportunities for older or more academic-based students.

YouTube Videos

Because who doesn't love Kid President?

A read aloud of "The Gratitude Jar". 

Kind of a goofy cartoon, but has a great message and older characters to appeal to upper elementary students and above!


I love this idea from Teach Beside Me because there's so many ways you could modify or differentiate it for your specific class! 

SO CUTE! Getting kids outside and exploring all the things that we can and should be thankful for really opens up the minds of our kids. And who doesn't love a Scavenger Hunt?! (by This Little Home of Mine)

Imagine what amazing skills our students could develop if we took the time to teach them the value of gratitude at young ages?! What are you planning on doing to teach this mindset this season?


Thursday, October 19, 2017

Easy Behavior Strategies

Hi! BEHAVIOR. Coming off of a very rough week, I am relying on these strategies more than ever!

Sometimes behavior plans can be super complex, and it can be so tedious to implement them with fidelity! Here are a few ideas that are pretty quick and simple, and can still deliver positive results with your students!

Teacher vs. Students

(Please ignore the filthy whiteboard!) SIMPLE AND EFFECTIVE! Come up with ONE behavior you're targeting and phrase it positively (ex: "only use nice words" NOT "no cursing"). Make it clear, not something like "be safe". Determine a time frame (ex: reading workshop, free time, 1 hour), determine the incentive (ex: one starburst, YouTube break, extra free time). GO! During this time, add tallies to the chart for students every time they exhibit the positive behavior, add tallies to the teacher side every time they exhibit the opposite, the negative behavior. At the end of the allotted time frame, determine who wins!

Picture Rings

My students are obsessed with these! Print out a variety of pictures of preferred items (basketball players, movie characters, sports teams, etc.) and laminate them. Pass out a picture when students show positive behavior during a time they typically struggle (for me, it's transition times!). If my students are safe, respectful, and showing effort during transitions, they can earn a picture for their ring.

Sometimes its nice to have different behavioral strategies for different times throughout the day. This helps lessen satiation, keeps students engaged, and helps with motivation.

What easy behavior strategies do you use daily in your classroom?


Sunday, October 8, 2017

Understanding Attachment

Okay... so what's "attachment"? Well, it's how you attach to, or connect with relationally, other people. It all begins with your caregivers, who are generally from the start, your parents. Research says that your attachment style is solidified by the time you are 2-3 years old, and that this style stays with you for the remainder of your life. Can it change? Absolutely - but it's not easy. Changing an unhealthy attachment style can take years of very hard work. 

What's healthy attachment? What it comes down to, is that a person you love (let's say, your mother) can disappoint you or hurt you, but you can still love them dearly despite your negative feelings towards them. The healthy attachment is there. It means seeking out the individual you have healthy attachment towards when you need something (ex: searching for your dad at the park after you fall down and hurt yourself rather than running to a stranger for comfort). 

Okay... so what's unhealthy attachment? Why does it matter that I know this as a teacher? Unhealthy attachment styles can show up in a variety of ways. Depending on what source you read (I have learned about attachment styles and disorders from Bowlby and Ainsworth, who coined the term "attachment theory"), there are 3 types of unhealthy attachment. This matters to you as an educator because you're likely trying to build relationships with your students. If you have a child who has struggled greatly in her ability to form healthy bonds with her parents, she's likely going to struggle in creating a relationship with you and the rest of her educational team. It's just behavior science. There's not magical intervention to fix this (yet!), but knowing about the dynamics of attachment and what she may be facing can be helpful in how you go about forming a trusting relationship with her. 

On to unhealthy attachment styles - in a nutshell:

Anxious Attachment - As the title states, this is a pretty anxious kiddo. They are continually showing inward and outward signs of anxiety in relation to their caregiver. Where are they? Can I call them? This child might be really suspicious of their caregiver, but then also super clingy towards them. Overall, their caregiver is unpredictable or inconsistent. Sometimes they are able to support, attend to, and deeply parent their child, while other times they cannot. 

Avoidance Attachment - This child learned early in life that they should ignore the innate urge to rely on their caregiver in times of need, because their needs are so often not met (or made worse) by their caregiver. This is a child who is consistently overly independent and trying to fix problems by themselves, acting like a little adult. This child in class is always taking problems into their own hands and never asking you for help. 

Disorganized Attachment - This child falls into neither category: they're not clingy to their caregiver due to anxiety and they're not trying to take matters into their own hands. They have no strategy when it comes to attaching and forming relationships. Typically, our students who fall into this category have experienced complex trauma. These students are mostly operating in fight or flight mode, as they're so unsure of what each moment could actually bring - because of their past experiences. Perhaps they have experienced their caregiver neglecting and/or abusing them, and then in turn watched someone neglect and/or abuse their caregiver. They have no way of making sense that their scary person could have their own scary person. Who can they trust? How can they make sense of safety in their world? 

Now I understand this is outrageously hard to read. Whether you're familiar with these terms or not, it's heartbreaking to read. How can we best help and serve these students?!

Well, first its good to remember that this is not easy. And it won't be. 

But what CAN you do? Be consistent. Be safe. Be predictable. Every day, my teacher greets me with a smile and a handshake, even if I hit her yesterday. There is always a bean bag in the corner I can sit in if I feel overwhelmed. My teacher always listens to what I have to say. Every time _____ happens, this is the consequence. 

Attachment is tricky. But you CAN be a safe landing for kids who once lived in chaos (think children in foster care, children living in group homes/residential treatment facilities, children who have been adopted or lived in large orphanages for a portion of their childhood) or children who are currently living in challenging homes. And their parents aren't necessarily terrible people. Many of them had childhoods that mirror the ones that your students are living. Be aware and be watchful, but also be gentle. Do a lot of listening and checking in. Offer resources. &, don't do it alone! Keep a team around this child and family - social worker, school psychologist, behavior team members. 

And, take care of yourself! Working with kids in trauma can be traumatic for those around them. This article about vicarious trauma is super eye opening. You got this - just make sure there's lots of self care happening to keep the ship afloat.