Sunday, June 25, 2017

Tips for using edible reinforcers in the classroom

I realize that it isn't realistic (or beneficial to students) to only rely on using food, or edibles, to get students to comply with directions and complete work. However, I also see the importance of using edibles initially with certain students. Edibles are meaningful reinforcers for young students who have a limited range of reinforcers (for example, the student doesn't have a variety of toys/ activities that are reinforcing to him)  and for students who have severe behaviors. It's important to use edible reinforcers strategically so that edibles aren't the ONLY reinforcer you use. 


A few tips for using edible reinforcers in the classroom:

-Alternate between salty and sweet:
You don't want kiddos to get bored of snacks or flavors that you're using as reinforcers. A way to avoid this is to vary your snacks and to alternate between a salty edible and a sweet edible. You can also alternate between an edible and a small sip of juice or milk. Alternating snacks will avoid satiation (e.g. The kiddo eats so many Skittles, that Skittles are no longer reinforcing; so Skittles temporarily decrease the kiddo's learning/ performance). 

A side note/ tip around drinks as reinforcers: it's a good idea to provide students with a cup and then you can pour only a small sip of juice/ milk into the cup to avoid them slurping down an entire juice/ milk box in 3 seconds. 




-Individualize:
This tip is pretty simple... Kids are different and they won't all enjoy the same edibles (shocker!). It's important to identify what edibles are reinforcing to kiddos to ensure that they're actually motivated to work/ comply with requests. 

You can easily figure out what edibles are reinforcing to kiddos a few ways:

1) A super easy way is to just ask the kiddo (if he or she is verbal) or ask his/her parents or care givers what the kiddo's favorite snacks are. Parents can normally easily identify what snacks their kiddo loves.

2) It can also be helpful to identify edibles that are reinforcing by observing the kiddo... Watch the kiddo in the lunch room- what snack/food does the student eat first from his lunch? If you're in the home, watch the student in the kitchen and see what foods he gravitates towards.

3) Once you have an idea of what edibles are reinforcing to the kiddo, test it out! 

Here's a little example/ scenario of how to test edible reinforcers:

You're working with a kiddo named Billy. Billy's mom says he loves M&Ms, Cheetos and fruit snacks and that he hates all fruits and vegetables. When you observed Billy in the lunch room, you notice that he ate the fruit snacks in his lunch box first, then he ate the M&Ms and ate Cheetos last; he never ate his apple, gold fish or popcorn. If you want to test out the reinforcers with Billy, you could place a variety of edibles in front of him and just watch what he does and doesn't eat. For example, if you put a fruit snack, M&M, gold fish and piece of popcorn in front of him at the same time and he only eats the fruit snack and M&M, those are probably reinforcing to him, while the gold fish and popcorn might not be appropriate reinforcers for Billy.

To try to identify what edibles are most reinforcing to Billy, you can put numerous items that Billy finds reinforcing (M&Ms, fruit snacks and Cheetos) on the table at the same time and see what snack he goes for first, second and last. Although you should remember that this isn't the only reliable way to know what's most reinforcing to Billy, because if Billy ate an entire bag of Cheetos before school that day, he might go for the M&M first, but if Billy hasn't had Cheetos in 3 days, he might go for the Cheetos first. With that said, it's important to play with reinforcers regularly to see what is reinforcing to the kiddo on that specific day. If you're working with Billy and he doesn't seem into fruit snacks that day, just skip using fruit snacks during work that day. 

Once you know what each kiddo likes, you can make little boxes to store and organize edible reinforcers. These little boxes are really convenient because whatever staff member is working with the specific student can just grab the box and go. I found the below boxes are the Dollar Tree, but Micheal's also has cheap options and a variety of sizes!

Individualized edible reinforcer boxes with student initials on the front.

-Cut edibles in half (when possible) and use small items!
I wouldn't consider myself a health nut by any means, but I do think it's important to try to do our best to keep our kiddos healthy and to not indulge them in too much sugar. I cut any edibles I can in half try to reduce the calorie and sugar intake of the kiddos I'm working with and I only use small edibles as reinfocers. 

Great small edibles include: cereal, popcorn, goldfish, popcorn, Skittles, M&Ms, mini chocolate chips, Smarties, Jelly beans

Edibles that cut/split well includeTwizzlers nips,any fruit snacks, sour patch kids, gummy worms & bears, the mini marshmellows, chips and pretzels, Teddy Grahams


A Twizzlers nibs cut in half.

-Always pair edibles with verbal praise:
It's very important to pair the delivery of an edible with verbal praise. 
If you pair the edible with a verbal praise, it will help you to fade the edible so that down the road, students can simply be reinforced by your verbal praise! 

Here are a few examples of how you could pair verbal praise with an edible with Billy (our friend above):
-Billy is sitting with the group for circle time (the desired behavior), as you're handing Billy a Cheeto you could say, "Wow! Fabulous sitting, Billy! Have a Cheeto!"

-You want Billy to match a green card to a green plate (behavior), when Billy correctly matches the card you could say, "Right! You matched green, well done!" while handing Billy a fruit snack at the same time. 



-Fade the edibles:
It's crucial to fade the use of edibles over time! It's not realistic to think that a kiddo can get an M&M or Skittle for every single correct response in school for the rest of his/her academic career. Edibles shouldn't be used as a crutch for staff and students, but as a way to get students to initially start working and to see other things (like toys/ activities and verbal praise)  as reinforcing. 


Here are a few examples of how you could fade the edible reinforcers with Billy:
-Billy is working on sitting in his chair during circle time. At first, you might give Billy an edible and verbal praise every 30 seconds for sitting. Once he's mastered this, you could fade the edible to every 60 seconds, then 90 seconds, etc. As Billy masters sitting in his chair, you would continue to increase the time Billy has to sit in his chair before he earns an edible. 

-When Billy is working on matching colors, you might initially give Billy an edible and verbal praise after every single correct response. As Billy starts mastering matching colors/complying with your requests, you might start giving Billy the edible only after every 2 or 3 correct responses and continuing to increase the number of correct responses needed to earn an edible.

Note: As I'm fading the edibles, I continue to provide verbal praise for correct responses even when I'm not giving an edible.

Please, please, please feel free to share any other ideas/tips you have around using edibles in the classroom or ask any questions you have!


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Thursday, June 22, 2017

Simple Task Box Ideas

If you follow my blog or TpT, you know I have a serious love for task boxes and independent work ;) I'm working ESY again this year and have students who have Autism and have very significant needs. All of my students need 1:1, and of course we don't have enough staff to provide that, so we are really using independent work to our advantage so we can get work done with other kiddos at that time. Kiddos are running independent work stations 3 times each day at ESY, so I had to make some task boxes to keep the kiddos busy.


Check them out!

Simple sorting with extra tokens we had sitting around.

Put in with cute cupcakes!

Blocks from one of our building center.

Colorful bears and Popsicle sticks!

These little sticks are from a set of math manipulatives. 



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Monday, June 19, 2017

4 Tips for supporting paraprofessionals with teaching academic skills


Unfortunately, paraprofessionals are sometimes only used for supporting with behaviors, but paras can be a HUGE asset when used to work on academic skills and IEP goals. If paras are new to the classroom or haven't been expected to lead small groups in previous classrooms, it can be scary for the teacher and paraprofessional to expect the para to lead academic instruction. 



In my classroom, all of my paras run small groups (1-3 students in a group) during math, literacy/reading and writing. I'm also pulling groups at this time, but instead of having my paras just supervising students, they're teaching too! Here are a few tips that will help to ensure that paras are supporting students' academic needs:

1) Make sure your paraprofessionals know exactly what academic skills they should be targeting
Have a "Goal Wall" in your classroom that shows each kiddos' specific IEP goals or targets. I have a goal wall in my classroom that includes the academic, OT, PT, behavior and speech goals of all of my students. It's a great way to remind the staff in our classroom what we should be working on with students. This is similar to posting weekly/ learning objectives, but they're individualized for each kiddo.  


Goal wall- you can purchase the editable template here.

2) Provide paras with lesson plans
Lesson plans don't need to be crazy long or detailed (this would actually probably stress paras out more), but you should give paras lesson plans so they know what and how they should be teaching students skills. I typically ask my paras at the beginning of the year how detailed they want lesson plans to be and then build lesson plans for them around their preferences. In the past, I've only had 1 para who wanted a super detailed/ script like lesson plan and the rest of my paras have always wanted something brief and simple to follow. I typically stick to tables that include what the student should be working on and the supports that the student will need. 

Example of a literacy lesson plan for paraprofessionals.

Editable template for paraprofessional lesson plans.


3) Determine how paras want feedback on their instruction
It can be tough to watch a para teach a skill/ lesson in a way that you wouldn't do it. Giving feedback to paras so they can improve their instruction can be hard, but it's SO important! You can use this free inventory to figure out how paras want feedback (right in the moment, in writing, etc.) so that you can ensure they can grow from your feedback.


4) Give paras visual zoning plans 
Zoning plans are awesome because they make sure that all classroom staff know exactly where in the classroom they should be and what students they should be working with. To avoid paras having another paper/form to read, I use these visual zoning plans. I basically made a visual layout of my classroom and then made a visual for where staff and students should be at specific times of our day (like reading, writing, independent work, etc.). Something I've found really helpful is to also make visual zoning plans for when I'm teaching a whole group lesson. The zoning plan for whole group lessons show paras where they should be situated and what students they should be supporting even when I'm teaching the entire group. 
Visual zoning plan examples





If you want any of the editable templates in this post, the bundle is on sale for $1 until June 25! The bundle includes a paraprofessional lesson template, editable zoning plans, and an editable goal wall template. You can purchase the bundle here



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Friday, June 16, 2017

Free Websites to Use with Switches in a Special Ed. Classroom

We live in a digital world... technology is all around us! Our kiddos with disabilities should have the same opportunity to learn to use technology as students who are "typically developing." As special education teachers, it can be difficult to find ways that our kiddos can access technology. I've always loved switch activated cause and effect toys and games, but switch toys are expensive and my kids get bored of them after a few weeks of playing with them. When it comes to technology, I often prefer using a computer over an iPad because the computer screen is larger and I have many kiddos with vision impairments. So I've been on the hunt lately for FREE websites that my students can use with switches for simple games and cause and effect activities.




First, before you even think of attaching a switch to your computer, you will need a switch interface. My district will loan out switch interfaces, but it's a NIGHTMARE to check stuff out and turn it back in, so I bought my own interface. I bought this X-keys interface for $53 and it works like magic!  Better Living Through Technology has a great post explaining switch interfaces and what you'll need to get started using a switch with your computer. After you have the interface, you'll have to download the software and get it all hooked up (whatever interface you buy should explain this process).

Shinylearning is amazing! The website is made specifically for kiddos with disabilities who use assistive tech (specifically switches and touch screen). The website has simple cause and effect games and also simple single switch games and the website words on computers and tablets. The website has some free games but you can purchase a subscription to get access to more games.

SpecialBites is also awesome! The website has a variety of free switch games/ software that you can download to your computer and also free online games that don't require any download. The website also has a variety of levels of games (some are simply single switch cause and effect, some require timing, and some require multiple switches!). We love the free online games- just go to the website and click "free online games" on the left tabs and then you have a ton of options like sports games, angry pigs, sensory games and so much more! Our favorites are the soccer games, all of the easy fireworks sensory games, and angry pigs.

HappyClicks might be one of the easiest websites to use! There are a ton of games/ activities that can be played with a single switch (or simply clicking any key). They have silly cause and effect games like magic tricks and animal noises and games that are great for kiddos who are new to using technology or who have limited physical movement. The single switch games are listed under "online games for babies using any keyboard (PC) or touchscreen." They also have free and simple point and click and drag and drop games.

Although FisherPrice is geared towards infants, toddlers and preschool age students, some of their free online games are perfect for switch toys and are really motivating to my kiddos. From the link, you can click on "online games" and then pick an age range and explore. Two games that work great with switches and that my kids LOVE are the Laugh & Learn Peek-a-Boo Game and the Rainforest Peek-a-Boo Game. They're perfect for single switches/ cause and effect!

If you know other websites that are great for switch toys, PLEASE share them in the comments! I would love more ideas and I know others reading this would too!

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Monday, June 12, 2017

Using antecedent interventions to reduce problem behaviors

Antecedent interventions involve changing the setting, environment or situation to address a problem behavior. With antecedent interventions, adjustments are made to the classroom to remove triggers for the problem behavior and to give students opportunities to practice a replacement behavior. I love antecedent interventions because they are meant to change the setting/ environment before the behavior even occurs. They're super helpful interventions to implement with individual students as well as entire classes. 

When it comes to behavior plans, it's important to make sure that the antecedent interventions are linked to the function of the behavior. However, I've also found that the below antecedent interventions are helpful to implement with entire classes.

-Using visuals
Visuals are probably some of the most universally used antecedent behavior interventions across all special ed. classrooms. Visuals are great to use for schedules, behavior reminders/ redirections and prompting for tasks. I use a variety of visuals across our day to avoid certain problem behaviors and to encourage replacement behaviors.
A "wait" picture card to cue students to not elope and a "go" picture card so students can request to leave the classroom near the classroom exit.

A simple first/ next/ then board is great for giving kids predictability and reduces problem behaviors during transitions. 
Labeling chairs with students' favorite characters can help to motivate students to sit in their chairs!

A simple visual schedule so students know what to expect next in the day. 

Stop sign on the door to remind students to not leave the room
-Arranging the physical environment
A simple way to avoid many problem behaviors is to sanitize the classroom environment. Specifically, keep all of the distracting toys and items out of students' sight and reach! This will reduce distractions and will also encourage communication! You can check out this blog post that explains more about sanitizing your environment.

Another way to modify the physical environment to decrease problem behaviors is by giving students clear boundaries/areas for specific activities/ tasks. Arrange the classroom so that there are specific areas of the room for specific activities (like a large carpet for circle time, small tables for free time or specific games/ toys, desks 1:1 work, etc.).  It's important to remember that if you determine a specific location to play with a toy, you should stay consistent with it and not allow students to play with a toy/ activity while not in that area.  

A puzzle area with a bookshelf and table

Rugs can be a great way to show students' boundaries for activities!

Another example of how rugs can be used to show boundaries.

A table designated for playing with cars/ trains

A designated location for independent work
-Offer choices
This is literally one of my all time favorite go-to antecedent interventions because it's quick, easy and often doesn't require any prep! I have a kiddo who really needs control over parts of her day and choices are a great way to give her this control. This page from PBISWorld is super helpful- it explains why giving choices is important, when you should give choices and how to give choices.

Here are just a few examples of choices you can quickly and easily give students include:
-What kind of chair they want to complete their work in (regular chair, cube chair, bean bag, etc.)
-What staff they work with (teacher, para, classmate, etc.)
-What writing utensil to use (pencil, marker, crayon, etc.)
-What order to do work in (first book then phonics work or phonics work and then book)
-The reinforcer they will receive after they complete a task

Remember: You should never give a kiddo an option/ choice that doesn't work for the staff in your classroom! For example, don't ask a student, "Do you want to work with me or Ms. Suzy?" if Ms. Suzy's lunch starts in 2 minutes or don't ask a student if they want to write in pencil or pen if the assignment is part of a formal portfolio assessment that needs to be completed in pen. It sounds silly for me to say this, but you'd be surprised how often I see staff giving students options that aren't very appropriate.

-Transition cues
Smooth transitions make the entire school day SO much better. There are a ton of options out there for helping kiddos with transitions. You can give students verbal warnings like, "2 minutes until math," "In 1 minute we clean up," or "When we are done with art, then we go to recess." You can also use visuals and audio cues to alert students of transitions. I love cheap egg timers from the Dollar Tree and kitchen timers (I love this one because it's magnetic and so I can attach it to my door and whiteboard). I also love to use different sounds/ sound effects to cue students of transitions. I have a doorbell answer buzzer from Amazon velcroed above my door that I use to cue students to line up. We practice it a ton at the beginning of the year, but basically when the doorbell rings, it's time to quickly clean up and line up.

The doorbell that we use to cue students that it's time to transition to line up. 
This free Children's Countdown- Visual Countdown App is also AMAZING! You can set the time to whatever second/minute interval you need and as the timer goes, it reveals a stock picture or a you can upload a picture from your phone! I like to set a timer and reveal the picture of the next activity  (for example, if there are 2 minutes until we go to the lunch room, a picture of the lunch room would be revealed when the timer is done). A few other cheap/ simple options for timers are: Timers on cell phones/ iPads, egg timers, Children's Countdown app, sand timers, timer websites (this link has a super easy to use timer),
Children's Countdown app (Free and super fun!)

Children's Countdown app- it let's you customize the amount of time and then choose the picture that will be revealed as time goes elapses!
What are you your go-to antecedent interventions to prevent problem behaviors throughout your classroom?

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Sunday, May 28, 2017

5 activities to try with letter manipulatives

I try to share ideas that other people can easily implement in their classroom. So, since letter manipulatives are something that most classrooms already have (and if you don't you can get super affordable letter manipulatives), I wanted to share some of the different centers and activities we do with letter manipulatives! I got the letter manipulatives in the pictures with my Scholastic teacher bucks, but have also bought these from Amazon for only $17.

All of these activities can be used during direct instruction/ literacy groups or for literacy centers. You can also be creative and use things other than just letter magnets- like blocks with letters on them, bottle caps with letters, letter beads, letter cards, letter stamps, etc.


-Sort Letters by Attributes 
I use parts of the Hand Writing Without Tears curriculum, so we practice sorting letters on what parts they're made out of (lines, curves or both).



-Matching letters to build words
I use this freebie in my TpT to have students match letters to build CVC words. This is great for kiddos who don't know letter sounds yet but are able to match letters. I also listed a ton of CVC freebies at the end of this post.


-Sorting letters
Sorting letters is great practice for early learners! You can easily make sorting mats in Word or Powerpoint or you can grab some of the sorting mats freebies at the end of this post.


-Sorting by letters/ numbers



-Building CVC words
Building CVC words without visuals/ letter prompts is a great activity for kinder and 1st graders.




Here are some great TpT freebies for using letter manipulatives:

CVC word freebies:
Danielle Fields's CVC Word Building
Sarah Mattera's CVC Word Building Center
Amanda's Little Learners' CVC Word Building Cards
Melissa Moran's Build a CVC Word Freebie
Tip: If you kiddos need visuals for matching the letters and can't build the CVC words independently, just write the letter into the box before you laminate them!

Letter sorting freebies:
Happy Little Kindergarten's Magnetic Letter Mats
The Eager Teacher's Letter Sorting Mats


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