Monday, June 11, 2018

Top 10 YouTube Channels for Special Education Classrooms

YouTube is one of my most favorite interactive resources to enhance my classroom instruction! Here are my Top 10 YouTube Channels for Special Education Classrooms (in no particular order!). I have also linked some of my favorite videos from each channel.

10. National Geographic Kids
I love this channel for learning about animals AND cultures. They have playlists of videos about animal types (wild cats, birds, etc.), longer documentary-style videos about specific animals, and really a amazing video series called "Are We There Yet?" that feature kids visiting different countries around the world.

9.) Art for Kids Hub

This is probably the most visited YouTube channel in my classroom! I love the drawing tutorials that are featured, you can find one for almost everything! What's awesome is the artist almost always has one of his children featured in the video, drawing beside him, which is encouraging because their drawings aren't perfect and are very relatable. I love using the videos as an anticipatory set before learning a new concept, or as a free time choice.

8.) Numberock Math Songs
Numberock has the BEST math songs across the spectrum from addition through 4-5 grade math! I love how age appropriate they are while still targeting very specific math skills. My students always look forward to them.

7.) Mystery Doug

This has been such a fun find for our classroom. We love watching Mystery Doug videos during our snack time before the bus arrives! Doug answers a phone call from a child who asks him a question, usually science focused, like "Why is the sky blue?" or "Why are tornadoes hard to predict?" He answers them thoroughly but in really kid-friendly terms.

6.) Mindful Kids
This YouTube channel is perfect for when students enter the classroom, during work times, or a rest/mindful time. The video features calming nature scenes that are still engaging, with quiet, relaxing music. 

5.) Harry Kindergarten

This is a channel you probably already know, it's so popular! Harry Kindergarten has a video for EVERYTHING, and they're always super engaging. I love his sight word videos and his character focused videos. They're great for brain breaks or enhancing a lesson.

4.) Scratch Garden

Like Harry Kindergarten, Scratch Garden has videos for everything! I like how they're silly yet still academic, and that kids across grade levels will engage with them because they're not overly babyish.

3.) Pancake Manor

This was my FAVORITE YouTube channel when I taught K-2 life skills. My students LOVED using their music choice boards to make a choice for the video they watched, and we used the one linked above almost every day as a movement break. The characters are super cute and engaging.

2.) HaveFunTeaching

This is a great channel for phonics instruction! Sometimes we have students above K-1 grade working on letters and letter sounds, and these videos are so age appropriate though it's a lower level skill. They have a letter song for every letter that incorporates movement, perfect for our kids!

1.) Howard B Wigglebottom

Howard has his own line of books and a website (, and his own YouTube channel! I love Howard B Wigglebottom videos to reinforce social skills and behavior topics. So cute and engaging for all of our learners.

What YouTube channels would you add? Happy watching!


Saturday, June 2, 2018

Creating a Classroom Coffee Cart Business

We LOVE our classroom coffee cart. This year, we started doing it on Fridays. As a classroom that follows CCSS and uses an adapted, but still gen-ed, curriculum, doing a coffee cart daily during the school year would have been tricky. We have a lot to cover academically, but we justified using Friday mornings as a great time to generalize social skills. During ESY, we will do our coffee cart daily!

How did we get started?

Our coffee cart "business" consists of a Keurig, K-Cups, creamer, sugar packets, Styrofoam cups and a utility cart. These materials are not cheap, and we had to get creative on how we were going to obtain them all. I created a DonorsChoose project  which funded the biggest items on our list. We were able to get sugar packets and stirrers donated from a local coffee shop! Then, our mission was ready to go!

My students created fliers that we emailed around the school letting them know about our venture. Since we got our materials donated, we decided we would offer our coffee for free. We take donations which we will donate to a local charity at the end of ESY. 

What do Coffee Cart Fridays Look like?

Every Thursday afternoon, we send out a Google Form to our teachers asking if they would like coffee on Friday morning. They simply add their name and say yes, or no. 

On Friday mornings, the magic happens! While my students are in PE class, I set up the Keurig and get out our materials. We store our materials on the top of a bookshelf during the week. When students arrive back to the classroom, we look at our Google Form data and determine how many cups of coffee we will need to brew. 

We then split up our class into 2 groups. Group 1 makes and delivers coffee downstairs, Group 2 makes and delivers coffee upstairs. This allows for less congestion, more hands on experiences, and the ability for more in-the-moment prompting and teaching from me. While one group is working, the other group completes social skills centers with my classroom para. 

My students take turns filling the Keurig, adding the K-Cup, getting the Styrofoam cup, and pressing the "brew" button. They then place the full coffee cup on our utility cart.

When our cups are ready to go, we make sure we have a variety of creamers, stirrers, and sugar packets. We push our cart to each office/classroom, knock on the door, and say, "Your coffee is ready!" The teacher/staff can then come in the hallway to customize their coffee with the cream/sugar as needed.

Takeaways from Coffee Cart Fridays

My students have really flourished with this little business/community service venture, but not without bumps. Students were constantly begging for their own coffee, putting their hands in full coffee cups, arguing over assigned duties, sneaking creamer cups in their pockets, etc. etc. etc. The growing pains were REAL. Is it perfect? No. But they really are learning about sacrifice, handling the word "No" (either from myself or from our "customers"!), handling repeating a task over and over, and sharing jobs with each other. I have found this to be such a positive and REAL way to practice needed social skills. Working with scenarios and role plays are meaningful, but teaching social skills in the moment really is the best way for students to understand and generalize the skills.

Are you ready to turn your class into entrepreneurs yet?


Monday, May 21, 2018

Behavior Book List

Teaching expected behavior through read alouds is one of my favorite ways to target specific skills. Here are some of my favorites, broken down into categories of behaviors. Enjoy, and happy reading!

Classroom Behaviors and Skills

Friendships and Relationships

Self Regulation and Self Control

Mindfulness and Calming Strategies

All of these books actually have a home in my classroom library, and I have read them aloud to my class or to individual students over the years. I hope you are inspired by this list and are ready to get reading, talking, and modeling in no time!


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Sunday, April 29, 2018

Relationship Building with Tough Kids

I am asked constantly what the best "trick" or "hack" is in working with children with significant behaviors. And what I really hear, and know, when someone says this, is: kids that are HARD to like. It can be difficult to admit as a teacher, but there are always going to be kids that are harder to like. Often times they have found it easier to get their needs met if they push and push. But quite honestly, sometimes us teachers have that mentality, too!

Have you ever learned how, back in the day, people in South India trapped monkeys? (Ok, bear with me, this WILL have something to do with relationship building.) The trap includes a hollowed-out coconut that is chained to a tree. The coconut also has sweet rice inside, to entice the monkey to the trap. The hole is the perfect size for the monkey to fit its opened hand inside, but when the monkey clenches its fist around the sweet rice, it cannot remove its fist from the coconut. The monkey is trapped - but not really! Its trapped by the idea of the rice, that it wants really badly, and cannot seem to wrap its mind around letting the rice go, so he can be free. And now, because of an expectation or idea, the monkey is literally trapped. (Ok, so this is probably a fable, but a good one, nonetheless!)

This story could be used in so many situations in our lives, but I find it to be perfectly suited when discussing challenging kids and relationship building. Often times, us teachers have an idea of what our classrooms should look like and how our students should respond to our carefully planned classroom management strategies (the sweet rice). And it makes sense - most teachers have gone through extensive teacher training programs and many have taught for decades with strategies that usually work. It's hard to "let the rice go" and release the fist to be free - accept a plot twist, and try something new. But I promise - with time and consistency - some of these relationship building ideas can help create trust, bonds, and safety which will in turn slowly begin a new set of behaviors. 

Why relationship building?
Dr. Charles Basch has studied positive teacher-student relationships and found them associated with increasing a feeling of student safety at school, reduces absenteeism, decreases risk taking behaviors, increases test scores, and development of resilience.

A lot of our students who are showing these disruptive and difficult behaviors (back talking, work refusal, tantruming, eloping from the classroom, verbal and physical aggression, etc.) also have experienced trauma and now have unhealthy attachment to others. 

What can you do?
My first piece of advice is while it's harder to build a relationship later in the year, it's never too late. Start tomorrow! Here's a few simple ideas for building relationships.

Spend 3 minutes daily getting to know the student. Only 3 minutes! Ask them a few questions. Who do you spend the most time with outside of school? What do you like to eat for dinner? Are you watching any TV shows? What's your favorite sports team? 

Then, follow up. Watch an episode of the TV show, start checking the stats on their favorite team. This will help you with conversations, as well as letting them know you're listening and paying attention. Add some of these interests into your lessons!

Praise in public, correct in private. Praising (some) students publicly can already be a huge bridge. Sometimes it's hard, if your student appears to be rarely doing what they're supposed to. If that is the case, change your focus. Is the student sitting? Praise them. Did they raise their hand, even for a millisecond, before talking out? Praise that. Are they wearing their uniform shirt? Praise! ARE THEY IN ATTENDANCE? Praise! Find small things to start off with praise. BUT - this is also where knowing your student is important. There are some students who are wildly embarrassed and uncomfortable with outward displays of praise. Be careful and deliberate in how you execute this to ensure you're really meeting your student's need. You could differentiate this by giving a note to them or even a smile/thumbs up with a whisper of praise.

Correcting in private is a real necessity. If you must correct in public, begin by being discreet or attempting to use humor to diffuse the challenging behavior. Students may continue displaying challenging behavior because they've been embarrassed and shamed by outward, public corrections. 

Create an engaging behavior plan. And make sure it's one YOU CAN FOLLOW. There is one sure-fire way to hurt a relationship, and that's to not follow through with something of importance. If a behavior plan is too complicated or time consuming to execute - say something! Speak up with your team. Make it simple and meaningful, and get student input to ensure that it stays exciting and motivating.

Restore your relationship when something happens. School is busy, and complicated, and has rules. Just because you're working on a positive relationship doesn't mean that events won't happen that don't go so well. This doesn't have to start you back at step one, but it will require some restorative conversations. If something comes up that strains your relationship, don't ignore it. Talk about it! A relationship is a two-way street, and it's okay that you share with the student how their behavior made you feel, but do so carefully. Acknowledge feelings, listen, and be honest about consequences and how the event affected everyone involved. Once the conversation is over - move on! Treat the next moment as a clean slate, and move forward.

Good luck, make it happen :)


Thursday, April 5, 2018

News 2 You in a High Incidence Classroom

Do you use News2You in your special education classroom? News2You is an adapted digital newspaper that allows students to make connections to current events each week. I have used it for years, and I love it! When I switched to teaching in a high-incidence classroom, I quickly learned that this would STILL be a super effective resource in this type of classroom environment. 

Also - I was able to secure News 2 You in my classroom from a request! Check out my funded project here

Typically, this resource is used in classrooms of students with disabilities like autism and intellectual disabilities. While my students have behavior disorders, many of them also have autism (on the higher end of the spectrum), learning disabilities, mild intellectual disabilities, speech/language impairments, and delays from interruptions in service due to their often occurring challenging behaviors. I have found News 2 You to be incredibly motivating - my students love the weekly repeated routine, they tend to like being "in the know" of current events, and I'm able to tie in TONS of related resources with the content that's given. I'll show you my 2 favorite features of News 2 You that helps make it extra successful in my classroom. 

Here's the main screen you'll see after you log-in to your N2Y account:
1.) Differentiated levels of resources
Across the top of the screen you'll see the 5 levels of text you can choose from. In our classrooms our ability levels range so hugely that it can almost feel impossible to do any type of whole group lesson. I love News2You because they understand this - my lower level readers can use the regular or simplified newspapers, while my students reading at a higher level usually use the "higher" newspaper. The level of symbol support changes as well as the complexity of the words and length of the paper. Below is an example of a printed version of the "higher" newspaper:

2.) Extension Activity
One thing is for certain with my students - they overall have a lack of exposure to many experiences and information. It's the nature of their disability and one of the many negative results of their traumatic backgrounds. Expecting them to read a newspaper article about King Tut and be able to connect to it and have a meaningful experience with it is truly ridiculous - without background knowledge. This is why I LOVE the Extension Activities that News2You offers.

I would create these slideshows myself if they weren't already available with the program, and it's insanely helpful that the team there has already created these. I have talked to many teachers using N2Y that did not even know about the glory that is the Extension Activities! They are background building slides that discuss more about the underlying theme of that week's newspaper. Facts, discussion questions, primary-sourced pictures, and videos are embedded to help build the knowledge of the students so they can better connect to the newspaper and the information. So many of our students are visual, experiential learners that really respond to multiple examples of new material. This week as we learned about King Tut, my students originally had no idea who he was, or what this newspaper would be about. As we browsed through the Extension Activity slideshow, I saw so many lightbulbs go off - they DID know about Egypt, they just did not have the vocabulary (like Sphinx and pyramid) to really share the information that they already had been exposed to.

So tell me - what's your favorite News 2 You feature? How do your students best access this resource?


Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Group Behavior Contingencies

If you've been reading my blog or following my social media accounts for any length of time, you know that behavior plans are my jam! There is really nothing that is more powerful than a well done Functional Behavior Assessment/Analysis that transforms into a meaningful Behavior Intervention Plan! Giving our kiddos personalized plans to help shape their behavior IS EVERYTHING! They can REALLY help create positive experiences for our students to succeed individually, but what happens when your class is falling apart as a whole group?! Enter... whole group contingencies!

I LOVE using these behavior contingencies SO much that I literally always, always, always have something brewing! Once one contingency is met, we start a new one right up!

There are SO many ways to try this out! How to start?

1.) Brainstorm
Student buy-in is huge! Have the class brainstorm a list of whole group rewards that they would like to earn. Popcorn party? Extra recess? Cooking activity? iPad time? Figure out a list of what the students request and work from there. This is not only easier than you coming up with ideas on the fly, but it WILL allow for more buy-in, you know exactly what they're motivated by!

2.) Behavior Targets
Maybe the kids know they're working for a pizza party, what do they need to exhibit to earn it? Tips: make it insanely clear and simple, working on ONE behavior at a time, and keep it positive. Want to clean up language? Behavior target should be "using expected words", not "no cursing". Keeps it positive and strengths based, showing students what they SHOULD be showing.

3.) Execution
There are so many ways to execute a whole group contingency. You can do it based on a time frame, or just "until you earn it", it can be done with spelling the word their earning, or filling a container. Here are a few that I've done!

This is for extra buy-in - a mystery! They were able to uncover a letter of the mystery surprise every time that they were all participating in a lesson. 

The class got a pom-pom every time that they showed the expected target behavior, working to fill it up to the top line.

Have you done whole group contingencies with your class? Right now, my kids are working towards a slime making party! 


Friday, February 23, 2018

Trauma Informed Schools

Let's get down to the real stuff from the beginning, teachers: According to the ACES Studya child with four or more “adverse childhood experiences” was 32 times more likely to be labeled with a learning or behavior disorder than a child with no adverse childhood experiences. And plain and simple, an adverse childhood experience means a child who has experienced trauma.

Our students have often faced situations that feel insurmountable and virtually impossible to tackle. But - with the right support and resources, a school team can become trauma informed - able to recognize signs of trauma, and respond to the effects of trauma, in a way that is empirically validated and backed by behavior science.

Often as special educators, we are on the front lines of assisting children with challenging behaviors.  When trauma is the culprit, what do we do? 

First off - LEARN. 
There is now tons of research and resources surrounding the treatment of children who have experienced trauma. Some of my favorite resources that have really helped me feel equipped and to learn and grow are below.

Psychological First Aid - This was originally practiced by first responders when they responded to a crisis. It's been found that these practices can really help educators respond to their students, too! The foundations of PFA are:

  • Listen — Let your students know you are available to listen to their concerns and talk about the event. Listen attentively and pay attention to what students say.
  • Protect — Help students feel protected by continuing to listen to their concerns. Talk to them about what is being done in the school and community to keep them safe.
  • Connect — Reach out to your students regularly. Communciate with other people involved in your students' lives, such as parents, grandparents, or other teachers. 
  • Model — Be mindful of your verbal and non-verbal cues. Commit to your own self-care. Acknowledge the difficulty of the situation.
  • Teach — Help your students reach and achieve small goals and applaud these achievements. Remind students that time will help.

Attachment and Trauma Network - This network of supports is very teacher-friendly but also offers lots of parenting resouces so we can best support our students caregivers. This group has also started offering a yearly national conference that is solely dedicated to becoming trauma-informed!

Support for Students Exposed to Trauma - Signing up on this website gives you a host of resources to implement an intervention program for late elementary through early high school aged students. The entire program is evidenced-based too - woo hoo! :)

Then Learn Some More!

When I first began exploring the concepts of childhood trauma, I went to my favorite resource - BOOKS! Personally, these two books, still, have given me the most tangible and applicable information. 

The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk is a unique take on trauma, and what it does to your body. It has given me so much insight of how adverse experiences don't just create fear and anxiety, but so many other physical effects. Having this knowledge has helped me hugely in meeting my students where they're at. 

Lost at School by Dr. Ross Greene is the first book I had ever read about children with significant behavioral challenges and trauma. Greene coined the phrase, "Kids do well if they can", which has truly become the mantra of my current school! Greene has written many other books, all worth reading, but I have found this one is the most explicitly related to us as special education teachers.

 As a special educator working in a residential treatment center, all of my students have experienced extreme situations of trauma. Personally, I have found that the best things I can do are to give space, validate feelings, problem solve, and listen more than I talk. These resources have helped me grow in my ability to support the unique social emotional and behavioral needs of my students that need me most. How do you connect and support your students who have experienced trauma?


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