Friday, August 11, 2017

Functional Task Boxes

Every school year, I identify a few "grows" that I want to work on over the course of  the year. This year, I want to improve my relationships with families, continue to learn new ways to teach core vocabulary and to incorporate more functional skills for my kiddos! I decided to make some new task boxes to work on some basic functional skills.

Check out my new sorting and put-in independent work/ task boxes! Everything is made from stuff I already had in my classroom or from the Dollar Tree.

Sort the game pieces.

Pack the toiletry bag.

Put the pencils in the pencil pouch.

Sort by pencils and pens.

Put the money in the piggy bank (just a painted yogurt container).
Sort the office supplies.

Stock the art caddy.
Do you make functional skills task boxes? Please link any posts/ pictures you have of functional task boxes in the comments! I'd love for us to all share our ideas :)

Thursday, August 10, 2017

The BEST Resources for Core Vocabulary

There is a lot of research, information and resources out there around core vocabulary. Since I started implementing core vocab in my classroom two years ago, I've spent countless hours reading websites and looking for materials. I want to share some of my favorite FREE core vocab resources and finds. I'm highlighting resources that have a LOT of information and freebies alll in one location.

-DLM Core Vocabulary:
If you're just starting off with core vocabulary, I would suggest checking out the University of North Carolina's DLM Core Vocabulary page. From this page, you can find this great presentation (Journey to the Core: Developing a Core Vocabulary for the Common Core) that clearly describes what core vocab is, core word lists, another presentation (Teacher Core Vocabulary Words & Symbols to Students with Complex Communication Needs) that explains the characteristics of core vocab, the importance of teaching it and strategies for teaching core vocab. This Project Core website has a bunch of free core overlays in a variety of sizes.

-Dynavox Core Word Lessons
This 100 page Core Word Lesson from Dynavox is full of lessons and activities ideas around core vocab. It includes lessons for a ton of core vocab words including: go, want, more, like, not, I, it, is, can, more, stop, you, and do! The document includes plans for 5 days for each word, supplemental activities, extension activities, game ideas, internet based activities, paper-based activities, role play activities, science/social studies ideas and SO much more!

Here are a few examples of my favorite fun ideas from the document that are for the word "go."
  • Doing a treasure word hunt around the classroom to find the word "go" on books, on bulletin boards or around the hallways.
  • Putting the word "go" on stickies around the room and having kids "go" on a safari to find the word around the classroom
  • Having a dance party and having kids "go" (or dance) when the music starts and freeze when the music is turned off
  • Playing musical chairs and using the "go" language
  • Stop/ "Go" (AKA red light/ green light)
  • Creating online pin boards for "go" like places the student would go and things that go
  • using a mapping website that shows street level and having kiddos tell you where to go

The previous resource led me to the MyTobiiDynavox website that is seriously GOLD! Not only does it have lesson and activity ideas, but it has a ton of FREE core vocab books!

Source for books
Click here to make a free account. After you make an account and sign in, click the "community" tab (at the top), then "resources". The resource page then has a ton of options, but my favorite is the "core first" section. If you click on the "core first" tab, you can download free lesson plans and books for 36 core vocab words!!

AssistiveWare Core Word Classroom: 
For this awesome resource, you will also have to start by creating a free account (trust me, it's worth it!). Once you created an account and are logged in, you can then use the search area to simply search for a core word you're looking for. Once you search a word, my favorite resource is anything that says "core word of the week." If you click on any search result that has"core word of the week" in it, you will be taken to a page with videos explaining a variety of ways to teach the word, lesson plans, activity ideas, and printable core boards!

These websites have helped me plan my core vocab instruction during circle time for the entire school year! What are you favorite core vocabulary resources?

Friday, August 4, 2017

Circle Time... with an Emphasis on Communication & Literacy

Circle time is still one of my favorite times of the day! It can be tough planning and mixing up circle time since I have the same students for up to 6 years. This year, I decided to spend much of circle time focusing on communication and literacy and I'm super excited about how it came out!

Before you dig into this post, it will probably be helpful to know the logistics of how I run circle time. Click here to read the about how I run circle time so my kiddos have built in movement breaks (you can also download a free template on that page). Also, if you need ideas/ tips around leading effective whole group activities, check this post out. Lastly, you can check out this post and this post for more circle time ideas.

Here's our circle time sequence:

1) Greetings:
We start circle time off by greeting our friends and teachers. Greeting peers is an important communication and social skill, so we practice greeting peers in a variety of ways including: waving, verbally, using Big Macs and using a GoTalk9+ to tell our peers silly greetings. My kiddos love when we mix the greetings up and use fun phrases like: aloha, ahoy matey, sup dude, wazzzzz up, top of the mornin' to ya, how you doin'?, howdy, and so much more!

2) Theme of the Week & Sign of the Week:
Next, we go over what we are learning for the week and our sign of the week. We practice saying the theme and we read a short shared story that relates to the theme. Then we practice the sign of the week by watching the teachers do the sign, watching a video of someone doing the sign and then kiddos do the sign. We practice the same sign for the entire week and it's awesome to see how with repetition, many of our kiddos can start signing and approximating the sign by the end of the week!

3) Core Vocabulary Word of the Week:
Next we learn the core vocabulary word of the week. We practice saying the word, finding the word on our communication boards and devices and then do short activities that involve the word. For example, we might read a short adapted book about the word or do hands on activities like I explain here. We also added a new set of core vocabulary cards that are texturized for our kiddos.

Texturized core vocabulary cards

4) Alphabet/ Phonics/ Sight Words:
We also spend some time working on letters, phonics and sight words. This part of circle time is very differentiated- some students are eye gazing at letter cards and feeling texturized letters, some students are matching letters, some are verbally identifying letters, some are matching letters to letter sounds and two of my kiddos are working on reading sight words.

5) Jokes:
Telling jokes is a super fun way of communicating! We tell 2 step jokes and knock knock jokes during circle time and it's hilarious!! We have a little tub of funny glasses, clown noses and props that we wear and then we use sequenced Big Macs and Twin Talks to tell the jokes. If you want ideas and free resources for telling jokes, check out this post.

6) Calendar:
I like to keep the calendar part of circle time pretty short and sweet. We put birthdays, field trips, special activities, etc. on our calendar with picture symbols and then we basically just check our calendar to see if anything is happening that day or week. Then we cross the day off with a marker. We normally do color patterns when crossing dates off.  Fun tip: Use scented markers for the calendar to create a sensory experience for kiddos!

7) Weather:
For the weather part of circle time, we simply graph the weather for the week and focus on using core vocabulary words ("WHAT is the weather today?" "LOOK outside the window." "Do you LIKE the weather today?" etc.) You can snag my weather graph for free here.

8) Attendance:
For attendance, we work on identifying our names and we also talk about core vocabulary words (who, here, and not). This activity is also very differentiated, some kiddos are reading their first and last name, some are reading their first name, some are recognizing their name with color coding and some students are recognizing their pictures.

Communication throughout circle time:
I try to support my kiddos' communication throughout circle time by using these yes/no sticks and board, a "like" and "don't like" board and voice output devices. Here are a few examples of how I use the yes/no cards:
-I show a student a picture and say, "Is this you? Yes or no?" and show student the picture and yes/no board.
-I show student a sunny picture card and say, "Is the weather sunny today? Yes or no?"
-I ask the student, "Are you here today? Yes or no?"

Let me know if you have any specific questions about any of our circle time activities!

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Embedding Core Vocabulary in the Classroom Environment

If you follow my blog, you know I've been on the core vocabulary train the last couple of school  years. Our kiddos need every opportunity possible to be exposed to vocabulary and language, so it's important that we embed core vocab across all instruction and the environment! I wanted to share some simple ways you can embed core vocabulary across the classroom environment to promote communication. Not only does enriching the environment with core vocabulary support the kiddos, but it's also a great reminder to staff to intentionally use and model the language throughout the day!

Check out some of my ideas for embedding core vocab across the classroom environment!
"Turn on" and "turn off" on light switches.

"Go out" on the doors.

"Who," "here" and "not here" for attendance.

"Put away" on lockers or cubbies.

"Find the same" on sorting task boxes.

"Put in" on put in task boxes.

"Turn on" on CD players, computers, etc.

"I" and "me" on mirrors in sensory areas.

"Open" on doors and cabinets. 
"Stop" on staff cabinets. 

Do you have any ideas for embedding core vocabulary in the environment to promote communication? I'd love to hear your ideas!

Friday, July 28, 2017

4 Simple Ways to Communicate with Parents

I've said it before and I'll say it again... Parent-teacher communication is crucial to the success of our kiddos! Communicating with parents doesn't have to be super time consuming and you should definitely make it a priority. I wanted to share some of my favorite simple ways to communicate with parents.

Make Parents IEP VIP Books
My SLP did a parent survey last year to gauge parents' comfort with the IEP process. A piece of feedback that we got was that parents don't know how to easily contact teachers and service providers and that they don't really understand service time. To help parents with this, I made these little IEP VIP flipbooks. The books are individualized for each kiddo and have teacher and therapist contact information and service time. Now parents won't have any question about how to contact the important people on their child's IEP!
Click to find this in my TpT shop.
Simplify Back & Forth Books
Although back and forth books can be time consuming, I think they're SO important in special education classrooms. Most of my students are non-verbal, so they aren't going home and telling their parents what happened that day... so it's my job to make sure parents know what's going on at school! If you simplify your back and forth books, you should be able write in all of the books pretty quickly. I can complete my 9 back and forth books in about 10 minutes total. My favorite ways to simplify back and forth books are to use checklists and to use planners from the Dollar Tree.
Back & Forth Book with checklists. Click to find this in my TpT shop.

Simple planner from the Dollar Tree as a back and forth book.

Capitalize on Technology
I like to use technology in a variety of ways to communicate with parents. In the past, I've done a classroom blog with monthly posts. This was a good way to share pictures, information about what we did that month and updates with parents. However, parents didn't check it very often (even when they got an email notifying them there was a new post), so I felt like it was a waste of my time.
Now I use the Bloomz app as my main mode of communication with parents. It's completely free and it allows you to share pictures, videos, calendars and classroom updates with parents in just a few easy steps! It also has 2 way messaging so you don't have to give parents your cell phone number. It's great because most parents check their smartphones so frequently.

Utilize Surveys & Inventories
Give parents surveys and inventories to fill out at the beginning of the year so you can gauge how parents want you to communicate with them, then base your communication on the survey results. This will avoid you spending time writing a classroom blog or weekly newsletter if parents aren't interested in it!

Click to download this freebie.

What are your favorite ways to communicate with parents?

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

4 things you should do before the first week of school

The weeks leading up to the beginning of the school year can be really overwhelming for teachers. I see a lot of teachers worrying SO much about how their classroom looks, that they often don't think about the logistical and organizational items that are much more important than having a perfectly decorated classroom. It's imperative to get some of the logistical tasks done before the first week of school so that you can put all of your attention and time on the kiddos those first few crazy weeks of school.

-Prep materials for your paraprofessionals before their start date 
Click here to find this visual zoning plan in my TpT.

Click here to find this lesson plan in my TpT.
It's crucial to have copies of lesson plans, zoning plans, behavior support plans, visuals and handbooks ready for paras when they walk in the door.  If you want your first few days with paras to be effective and efficient, then you have to be clear and direct about your expectations on day one (and give the information/ expectations to paras in writing).

If you need a paraprofessional handbook template, you can download my editable para handbook for free here.

-Make a substitute teacher binder. Just. get. it. over. with! 

It always surprises me how many teachers don't have a sub binder created by Thanksgiving break. I learned the hard way the importance of having a sub binder at the beginning of the school year... My first year of teaching, I got a nasty stomach bug the 3rd week of school and had to throw together emergency lesson plans from the bathroom floor. Don't make that same mistake! Have a sub binder ready before the kids even start. You can always go back and edit/ add to the binder if you have to make changes the first few weeks of the year.

Here's a link to the editable substitute teacher binder I use.

-Call every single parent.

The parent-teacher relationship is a really important piece to having a successful school year. It's helpful to call every parent before the first week of school, regardless of if you already know the parent or not. Introduce yourself to new families to your classroom and just call to check in with families who are returning. I promise that this will help you start the year off positively with parents!

-Dig into paperwork.

This probably isn't what you want to hear... but it's definitely necessary to dig through IEPs and paperwork before the kiddos start school. There are a few things involving IEPs that you should get organized prior to the year starting:

Due Dates & Service Time
Every year, I make a due dates chart that shows when my annual IEPs and re-evaluations are due. I also make a simple reference chart that shows the amount of service time each of my kiddos has.
These are from my teacher binder here.

Student Needs:
Make sure you identify if any of your students have specific behavior or health needs that need to addressed before the school year starts. For example, do you have a kiddo who you need to make a new first/then board or token chart for? Do you need to make a plan for a kiddo who elopes? Or do you need to make sure the school nurse gets a seizure action plan in place before the first day of school?

Accommodations & Modifications:
Make sure you're aware of all your kiddos' accommodations and modifications. I make a chart for this too (shocker) and I share it with all of the specials and general education teachers who see my kiddos. It's a helpful reminder to them that our kiddos should be getting the accommodations and modifications across their day, not just in the special ed classroom.

What things do you think are essential to do before the school year starts?