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 DonorsChoose.org 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?

Love,
Allie



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! 

Love, 
Allie


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?

Love,
Allie

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Saturday, February 3, 2018

Celebrating Self-Love for Valentine's Day

Last year, I had enough. Not only were my 2-3 grade students obsessed with dating one another and getting themselves into awkward love triangles, but their lack of self-esteem was exhausting to witness. I decided to take a non-traditional spin on Valentine's Day to distract from the romance and focus on a much needed concept - and I'll never go back!

Read alouds

I like to set up the day with a clear focus on how we are celebrating the holiday - all the amazing strengths we have, and reasons why we love ourselves. Here are three books I read last year, and will be staples on Valentine's Day in our classroom this year, too. 


Interactive Activity

Have you ever read the book The Best Part of Me by Wendy Ewald? It's a BEAUTIFUL book with photographs of real kids sharing their favorite parts about themselves. It is such a perfect way to highlight our strengths, the important features of our bodies, and to highlight self-love. It's also a fun way to talk about writers craft! I will be using this template, available as a *freebie* in my TPT store, to guide us through the process!


I also love this idea, that I'll be incorporating this year - a heart map. Students brainstorm the things, people, and concepts that take up the most "room" in their heart and make them tick, and share it through words or pictures. 

I love this freebie I found on TPT...
Heart Map | Introduction to Writing

and this sweet picture from The Silver Lining in Teaching!
I really like this as maybe a beginning of the year activity to get to know students ~

Will we still eat chocolates and pass out Valentine cards? Yes! As a teacher, I feel this is a perfect time to begin developing and focusing on the importance of self-esteem on a holiday that so many ADULTS feel like can only be celebrated if you are coupled up. 

True story: last year, I had a 3rd grade boy who was inconsolable for the majority of Valentine's Day because he was single! AHH!

May your Valentine's Day be filled with sweetness and limited child-romance drama!

Love, 
Allie

This post contains affiliate links to get you right to the product. Any purchases you make using these links helps to support my blog so I can continue sharing and collaborating with you.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Winter Olympics in the Special Education Setting


So, admittedly, I can't miss teaching my class about the Winter Olympics because I am obsessed with watching them. I figure skated for 10 years and I watch competitive skating like other people watch football (yes, complete with yelling at the TV!). But selfishness aside, the Olympics is a seriously awesome event to teach during! It's a world-wide event that our students should know a little something about. Plus, you can add in so many academic skills to make it such a fun unit of mini-lessons!

Read Alouds
Some Olympic sports are a little more common than others... (think skiing vs. luge!), so creating exposure and background knowledge is hugely important!

I love to read one per morning, discussing the sport, any questions, and during an afternoon transition time, watch a few videos of the sport in action. If you're doing this unit during the actual Olympics, you can time each book to be when these athletes are competing, and show gold-medal performances on the Olympics YouTube channel!

Here are some of my favorite books - including a new one that is just about the 2018 Winter Olympics!





A mix of fiction and nonfiction is good, but this is a real event! It's a great time to focus on non-fiction text and non-fiction text features, which in some of our classrooms may not always take the forefront. Great time for exposure!!

Crafts
I know crafts can sometimes get a bad name, like they're a waste of time. No way! If you really strategically plan out a craft, you can add in language practice, direction following, 1:1 correspondence, turn taking, sequencing, social skills, attending to task, frustration tolerance, and even STEM! I LOVE these ideas from Activity Village! 

Blow Skiing... so cute.
Blow Skiing

Curling game - great for explaining a sport they will likely not know exists.
Curling Game

Make a ski-collage - would love to do this with pictures of actual skiiers in the games!
An intrepid skier in our ski collage!

Medal Count
My favorite activity to do with my students is to complete a morning medal count. We will be tracking the medals of Team USA each morning and watching videos of their performances/games. This is an awesome way to reinforce graphing, data collection, tally marks, and reading a table. And, I came prepared! Check out this freebie from my Teachers Pay Teachers store to keep track of 10 Olympic sports!

Olympics Medal Count - Freebie!

And an extra fun thing? MadLibs! These are great if you're working on parts of speech and have a few extra minutes during a transition time.



What are your favorite Olympic themed activities? Comment below!

Love,
Allie


This post contains affiliate links to get you right to the product. Any purchases you make using these links helps to support my blog so I can continue sharing and collaborating with you.

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
ENJOY!

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?

Love, 
Allie

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!


Love,
Allie